The Indian Church, the Censors and the film Angels & Demons

Mrs Sharmila Tagore, the Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification, called for a review screening of the controversial film Angels and Demons, a sort of a sequel to Da Vinci Code, at the Films Division Auditorium, Mahadev Road, New Delhi.
Apart from the review committee of the Board which included two men members – the Congress leader Tom Vaddakkan and the public relations guru  Dilip Cherian, Ms Tagore also invited representatives of the Catholic Bishops conference and me.  CBCI officials who attended  the special screening included the Official Spokesmen, Fr Babu Joseph, svd, the executive secretary of the CBCI media commission  Fr George Plathottam, sdb, Delhi Media Commission director Fr John Paul Herman svd, the Principal of St Columba School, New Delhi and two others.
The film has the usual Hollywood colour shooting in locales such as Rome and ceremonies of pomp, but its cinematic merits fail it entirely, with the work seldom rising above the level of a mediocre and dreary action thriller riding just on the notoriety of Da Vinci Code.
The Vatican has condemned the film for its undercurrent of malignant attitude to the church, but has not called for a ban. The CBCI had earlier apparently called for a ban, but did not insist on it at the screening while condemning the film for showing the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the Papacy, particularly election of a new Pope, is a bad light.
The Censor board made it clear they were in no mood to ban the film which will soon have a global premier. It was also hinted that commercial issues are involved if films are banned. It was let known that the film may erase out some offensive words, but the film will be released with a disclaimer at the beginning saying it is a work of fiction with no relatishiop to reality.
I gave a written note to the Secretary to the Chairperson in my capacity as a Member of the national integration Council, a former President of the All India Catholic Union, and the current secretary general of the All India Christian Council. In my note I made the following points:
The Censor Board is a statutory body and should have the courage of its own convictions. It has its guidelines and its duty, and if it thinks a film, any film, disparages a religious community or hurts religious feelings, it should take action under its code

The Censor Board should not pass the buck and the responsibility even in an advisory capacity, to organisations such as the CBCI, to take the infinitive. It puts CBCI and religious organisations in an awkward spot – they are made to appear as moral police and library burners if they call for bans or restrictions, or weaklings if they do not protest.
The Church is not a censor or a moral police, but is indeed a part of the civil society system which makes for a nation’s conscience. The Board must consult it on larger issues of civilisation and moral codes in entertainment, science and depiction of communities as stereotypes, which the Board never does.
When communities are mocked, pilloried or disparaged, it is not merely their reputation that is harmed, but cinematic images carry into real life and communities particularly priest and nuns etc, are made targets of physical violence. Stereotypes also harm the community’s image.
In this film, it is so dreary that it will die a natural death and should be allowed to do so with the rider that it is a work of fiction. Bu in principle I am against all bans on works even of fact or fiction within constitutional limits. Let such films be rejected by the audience and not because the Church says so.
The Censor board must ask itself a question — How will it react if the focus is not on the Christian Church but on religious heads of other faiths. Will it show the same “gentleness”?
God bless
John Dayal
Background note: The Central Board of Film Certification (popularly known as Censor Board) is the regulatory body and censorship board of India. It reviews film, television ads, and promotional material. Film censorship becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions, courts have held. In 2006, seven states (Nagaland, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh) banned the release or exhibition of the Hollywood movie The Da Vinci Code although India’s Central Board of Film Certification cleared the film for adult viewing throughout India. However, the respective high courts lifted the ban and the movie was shown in the two states.

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