CBFC’s Mission Impossible: Keeping Kashmir and Politics Away From Films

Pop Culture

CBFC’s Mission Impossible: Keeping Kashmir and Politics Away From Films

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

Tom Cruise does many incredible things in the latest instalment of his blockbuster franchise, Mission Impossible: Fallout. He skydives into Paris and pilots a burning helicopter over the Himalayas. But the one thing agent Ethan Hunt is incapable of, is uttering the word “Kashmir”, at least as far as the Indian audience is concerned. In a film full of death-defying stunts and jaw-dropping set pieces, the biggest talking point for us will be the omission of a scene that mentions Hunt’s Impossible Mission Force is heading to the conflicted Indian state.

A few days before the film released, reports surfaced that CBFC had cut an expository scene where our heroes are chasing an international terrorist to Kashmir. He plans to detonate two nuclear bombs at the Siachen glacier, irradiating the rivers of three countries, India, Pakistan, and China. The overblown doomsday scenario plot is typical of the stakes in the MI franchise, and has very little connection to real-world politics, as befits a film where Simon Pegg dons a rubber mask to impersonate CNN host Wolf Blitzer. MI films always promise a thrilling break from reality, and addressing geopolitical issues has never been the series’ selling point.

Why, then, did the CBFC feel the need to completely cut out the scene containing dialogues where the characters say the K-word?

It feels like a knee-jerk reaction, like how you throw all your dirty laundry under the bed when your parents come visiting. Over the last two years, unrest has been scaling up in the valley after the death of Burhan Wani. In response to the rising insurgency, the Indian Army has also increased the intensity of its operations. With pellet guns wounding civilians, journalists being murdered in the streets, and Kashmiri citizens being tied to and run over by army trucks, perhaps the CBFC didn’t want moviegoers heading home from the theatre and Googling “what’s the situation in Kashmir?”

Bollywood has a history of mining the conflict in the region for dramatic stories.

The decision to excise the scene referring to Kashmir, however, is completely unwarranted and out of proportion. Especially when you consider that films which address the valley’s delicate politics in an upfront and unflinching manner have already been made. Bollywood has a history of mining the conflict in the region for dramatic stories. Both Mission Kashmir and Fanaa dealt directly with terrorism in the valley, and they were mainstream films featuring superstar actors. The only barbs those films faced were from film critics. Unlike the last Bollywood film that dared to use Kashmir as its backdrop.

Haider released in 2014, and was probably the first film in history that could get you labelled as anti-national just for watching it. While its subject matter was no more or less controversial than the films that preceded it, the prevailing mood in the nation was starkly different. Jingoism was running high in the wake of the BJP’s unprecedented majority win in the Lok Sabha earlier in the year, and releasing a film showing any part of India in negative light, was almost a treasonous act. Theatre owners received threats, screenings were marred by protests, and many venues decided against showing the film.

Maybe the CBFC thought it would spare the public the trouble of dividing into opposing camps and going at each other’s throats over what is, essentially, a popcorn flick. However, their approach has been ham-fisted and blunt in the extreme. The scene containing the dialogue was cut as arbitrarily as if it had contained graphic nudity or extreme violence, and even the cursory censorship that takes place with that content is worthy of debate. But Kashmir should not be a taboo topic in India, not when we refer to it as a jewel in the nation’s crown. Treating the state’s reality as an inconvenient truth does little to dispel the notion among Kashmiris that they’re viewed differently from other Indians.

Members of the CBFC, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep politics away from artists’ freedom of expression. This message will not, and most definitely should not self-destruct.