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Militants ban Hindi films in Northeast

G Vinayak in Guwahati | August 13, 2003 11:41 IST
Last Updated: August 13, 2003 21:13 IST

Alarmed by the declining response to their routine calls for boycott of Independence and Republic Day celebrations, 11 separatist groups in the Northeast have upped the ante by announcing a ban on screening of Hindi films starting November 15.

The ban also applies to cable television operators.

In a joint communiqué, the militant groups said, "Indian cultural invasion has dangerously undermined the strength of the region's socio-cultural roots."

In Manipur, screening of Hindi films has already been banned by the Revolutionary People's Front. "The erotic song and dance sequences in Hindi films have produced an imitation culture among our younger generations and have completely disoriented their mind," the outfit said.

Police officials say the ban is one way of enforcing their writ on the people.

For the past couple of years, people in Assam have been showing signs of defying calls to boycott I-Day and R-Day celebrations.

The 12-hour boycott call on the eve of I-Day and R-Day were turning into a farce of sorts with people remaining indoors during the day but then coming out in force to enjoy themselves after dark, either arranging dinner parties or going to movies.

Among the prominent militant groups to have given the boycott call are the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Distributors and exhibitors say the effect is already visible as the number of moviegoers has declined since the ban was announced last week.

Hindi films have a good following in the Northeast as the local film industry is not well-established.

The militants have also cautioned local film and television producers against imitating popular Hindi films.

Another possible reason for the ban could be extortion. Some people associated with the film industry point to the date from which the ban is to be enforced: November 15.

"If they are serious about the ban, why not impose it now? Why wait three months," a police officer asked.

This, film personalities say, is to put pressure on the film industry to work out a compromise with the militants, which would involve exchange of money. Police officials agree.

The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, which controls the distribution of films in the region, said a ban would add to the woes of the industry, already reeling under the impact of piracy.

"As the threat is from militants, we have to seek help from the public and the government," Alam I Hussain, the EIMPA's branch secretary, said.

Some filmmakers in Assam are unhappy with the affect of Indian and Western cultures, as seen through Hindi films, on the locals, but insist any restriction should be self-imposed.

"Why should militant outfits point out unhealthy trends and insist on extreme measures? Cultural consciousness should stem from within society," national award-winning director Manju Bora said.

Bani Das, another prominent director, said a ban (by militants) was unlikely to solve the 'identity crisis' of regional films.

A ban on Hindi films, he said, would cast doubts on the commercial viability of cinema halls.

"There are only about 19 cinema halls in Assam that get good returns by screening Assamese films. What will happen to the other halls? The Assamese film industry still has not reached the point where it can sustain all these halls. Good Assamese films must be produced in large numbers. Only then will there be a change," Das said.

In Manipur, militants had successfully banned the screening of Hindi films and sale of audio cassettes of Hindi music in 2001.

In the state capital Imphal, for entertainment one has to be satisfied with channels like Arirang (of South Korea), MTV Korea and TVS.

The only exceptions are news channels like Aaj Tak and Star News.

Northeast-based militant outfits frequently issue statements and impose various codes designed to 'protect and preserve' the cultural identity of the various ethnic groups that inhabit the region.

A prominent rebel group in Manipur, the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), had last year imposed a dress code for women in the state and threatened violators with death.

Prohibiting women from wearing trousers or saris in public, the code compels them to don traditional sarongs known as phaneks. The KYKL justified the dress code saying traditional ways were under threat from increasing 'Western and Indian influences'. Women in Manipur wear both Indian and Western dresses, with the traditional phanek being worn mainly by the older generation.

There was a mixed reaction to the ban with some women's groups going to the extent of defying the ban, but reportedly most have fallen in line over the past six months.

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