This doesn’t happen everyday in India. The Army just made it to the country’s top list of offence-takers. And Balaji Telefilms’ czarina Ekta Kapoor has apologised. India may now well be on its way to entering the list of countries around the world where the military is worshipped to such an extent that no negative word is ever allowed.
The Defence Ministry recently wrote to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), stating that producers of movies or web series based on the Army should seek a no-objection certificate (NOC) before telecasting them. The letter, dated 27 July, stated that Ekta Kapoor’s web series XXX, which has been airing on video-streaming platform ALT Balaji since 2018, had allegedly depicted the Army in a “distorted manner”. One particular episode had reportedly hurt the sentiments of the Armed forces and their families.
The hashtag #ALTBalaji_Insults_Army started trending on Twitter on 4 June.
From right-wing groups like Karni Sena, who violently reacted to the portrayal of Mewar’s queen Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2018 film Padmavat, to India’s controversial censor board, the army has also joined a long list of groups that want to have a say on how they are depicted.
But what the Army should have been more offended by is how a man like Hindustani Bhau, a former Big Boss contestant, defended its ‘honour’ by issuing rape threats.
The controversial episode
The episode in question, called ‘Pyaar Aur Plastic’, first aired on 8 February, 2020 and showed an Army officer’s wife having an affair. At one point in the episode, she makes her lover wear her husband’s Army uniform during their intimate moments.
Responding to severe backlash and multiple police complaints, producer Ekta Kapoor deleted the scene in question and issued an apology.
However, the real problem here is not the fact that this episode ‘hurt sentiments’, but the fact that most people believe that what the show depicted is something that can never happen in reality.
A critical perspective — that too in a work of fiction — does not diminish the Army’s revered position in our country and society. It does not insult the sacrifices officers make every single day. Demanding that a NOC is issued every time the Army is depicted on the big or small screen, for me, is a bit of a stretch.
It is not just XXX’s controversial episode that the Army seems to be offended by. Code M, another ALT Balaji series, deals with issues like casteism and homesexuality within the Army. It takes a long, hard look at the Army and tells a story of what happens when there is an abuse of power. The series follows the idea that crimes or wrongdoings are born out of existing prejudices, and it can overpower even the highest ideals of the Army.
But many of those within the Army do not believe that the show presents an accurate view of how things work in the military. “In some of the web series like Code M on Zee 5 and XXX on ALT Balaji, scenes related to the Army are far from reality and present a distorted image of the armed forces,” an Army source had told ThePrint last week.
It is interesting to note, however, that actor Jennifer Winget’s character in the show actually says that being casteist, or giving into such prejudices, is not the Army way of life.
But the assumption remains that the Army can do absolutely no wrong. This is an absurd idea, considering that no matter what the extent of discipline in any organisation or institution may be, it is ultimately formed by human beings, and ‘to err is human’.
The idea that an officer has never and will not ever buy into ideas of ‘caste honour’, or that an Army wife cannot possibly ever have an affair, perpetuates the belief that the entire structure of the Army, which includes families, is ‘pure’ and infallible.
There is no dearth of projects that laud the valour of our country’s Armed forces. Be it films or web series, or even songs, the Army has been always showered with praise and respect. But if no alternative or critical view is allowed, it is indicative of a bigger issue — especially in the world’s largest democracy.
Unwillingness to engage with alternative ideas or perspectives makes an organisation not just rigid, but also stagnant. The Army’s NOC demand seems to indicate while every praise will be appreciated, no criticism will be entertained.
Taking offence and ‘hurt sentiments’
There is no objective standard for measuring ‘hurt sentiments’. There is no way to predict whether something that might be approved by one person, does not end up offending someone else.
How valid are the demands for bans or NOCs if they are based on the principle of ‘hurt sentiments’ or feelings? The Indian Constitution mentions “reasonable restrictions” on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Such restrictions can be imposed for the maintenance of “the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
Considering this, it may have been more worthwhile for the Army to speak out against actions of someone like Hindustani Bhau.
If we, as a democracy, are run by ‘hurt sentiments’, we could soon be ruled by tyranny instead.
Views are personal.