In a deplorable move, the Ministry of Defense has requested a ban on Nepali movie Badhshala, citing a rarely invoked rule. Apparently, the filmmaker should have taken permission to use Army regalia in the movie. But many Nepali movies have previously depicted characters in Army uniforms without any interference from the government. Hence the Defense Ministry’s reasoning falls flat at the outset. All previous movie bans were conducted by censor board (for example, the movie ATM that was banned for vulgarity). This is the first time that the Defense Ministry has gotten involved in preventing a movie’s screening. But the intervention could be counterproductive.
The more a work of art is repressed, the more it attracts attention. In the past, artists like Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Ai Wei Wei gained popularity beyond small artistic or national circles only after their works were banned. The Ministry’s attempt to ban Badhshala is likely to work in favor of the movie by giving it extra publicity.
In Nepal, attempts to repress artistic freedom are not new. Not long ago, painter Manish Harijan was threatened with his life for portraying religious figures in unorthodox ways. If we want to lay the foundation for an intellectually vibrant society, it is important to do away with such restrictions on artistic freedom. History has shown us that social progress is possible only when there is no restriction on information. Whenever information dissemination is left to the whims and biases of a few individuals, the society becomes stunted. But whenever information flows freely, the audience themselves become discerning: they sift though the flow and separate the wheat from the chaff. A case in point is the stark difference between movie industries in the two Koreas.
South Korea, where all kinds of movies are watched, has a thriving movie industry which produces world class movies in a wide range of genres. Some of its movies have been remade in English and Hindi. One South Korean, Ang Lee, has even gone on to make a mark in Hollywood. In comparison, the movie industry in North Korea, where many kinds of imports including movies are banned, continues to languish technically as well creatively, and has hardly produced any movies of note.
The more a work of art is repressed, the more attention it tends to attract.
Though Badhshala has not been screened yet, its anti-government stance on issues like war and torture is widely believed to be the reason for the government’s attempt to ban it. The government needs to take lessons from the US, where films like Zero Dark Thirty and Fahrenheit 9/11, both critical of the American government, were allowed to run. Only when all viewpoints reach the audience can there be a healthy debate on important issues. Currently, Nepali movie industry is taking baby steps towards experimental and thought-provoking cinema.
Even though many movies have failed at the box office, mainstream Nepali movies have been widely gathering praise for innovation, improved stories and technical finesse. In this context, the government should be doing all it can to promote Nepali cinema, not attempt to stifle it as its heavy-handed meddling threatens to do