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‘Ban’ buzz: Are filmmakers capitalising on negative publicity?

With the Pakistan Censor Board rubbishing director Madhur Bhandarkar’s claims about his film chasing a ban across the border, one wonders if such incidents help the publicity of a movie. We delve deeper…

Public protests and court petitions over film content are almost commonplace these days. Every other month, we hear of groups clamouring for a movie ban over ‘offensive’ or ‘objectionable’ subject matter, even though the censor board green-lights it. While the negative buzz may slow down the release strategy for distributors, it, more often than not, proves to be a boon for the makers. For, it brings attention to a ‘controversial’ film and prompts moviegoers to go to the theatre and figure out what the fuss is all about. In the last two months, we have seen some Bolly folk going to town with such bans, real or imaginary, and collecting windfalls of publicity.

Recent examples
In case of the Riteish Deshmukh and Pulkit Samrat-starrer Bangistan, which released last month, the producers claimed that the film, based on two suicide bombers, had been banned in Pakistan. However, chairperson of the Sindh Board of Film Censors, Fakhr-e-Alam, contested the claim, saying that his office had not received any application for certification of the film. Later, it turned out that the overseas distributor had not submitted the film for preview to that provincial censoring body since the central board in Pakistan had already refused to certify it. The film, however, did not do well at the box-office and industry experts blamed it on poor promotions – something that even the ban buzz could not salvage.

Phantom was banned in Pakistan following a petition filed by Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The film’s lead actor, Saif Ali Khan termed it `a shame` and added that he had `no faith in Pakistan`, sparking an anti-India social media war across the border

A few days later, the Lahore High Court banned the release of Kabir Khan’s Phantom in the country on the petition of Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief and Mumbai 26/11 attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed that the espionage thriller was against him and his outfit. The decision to ban the film on a ‘terrorist’s plea’ drew sharp reactions from various quarters with Phantom star Saif Ali Khan terming it `expected` and `a shame`. `I don’t have faith in Pakistan, generally. Neither do I understand what their thought processes are,` Saif was quoted as saying.

His statement sparked an anti-India social media war across the border. The film, which had a powerful story without any hint of jingoism, did average business at the box office.

Just a couple of days prior to the release of Bangistan (still above), producer Ritesh Sidhwani tweeted about the film being banned in Pakistan and a few other countries. A provinicial censor board in the neighbouring country contested Sidhwani’s claim and it later turned out that overseas distributor had not submitted the film for preview to them after being rejected by Pakistan’s central censoring body

Last week, rumours floated about an impending ban on Madhur Bhandarkar’s upcoming film, Calendar Girls, in Pakistan after the director posted a series of tweets, one of which read: `We are told #CalendarGirls is facing problems for a release in Pakistan because of a dialogue the local distributors saw in the trailer…` The line which reportedly upset the distributors was: `Pakistani girls are as bold as other girls. In fact, sometimes, they are bolder than the rest.`

Industry sources say the premature hue and cry was a mere publicity stunt, to grab attention for a film that `no Pakistani distributor has shown any interest in`. The Pakistan censor board, too, dismissed rumours about receiving any application to certify Calendar Girls, which is slated to release this Friday.

In defence
Ashok Ahuja, head-Distribution, Mangal Murti Films, which is the local distributor for the upcoming movie, says, `A few distributors in Pakistan after seeing the trailer decided it was anti-Pakistan because of one dialogue and hence, refused to send it for censorship.

They didn’t want to be pulled up by the censor board for bringing anti-Pakistani films. This could put their import licence in jeopardy.

We requested them to see the film and than take a call as Madhur is known for realistic entertaining films and has always avoided the route of controversy. However, after a lot of pressure and persuasion the distributor is submitting it for censorship.`

Explaining the procedure of application for censorship in the neighbouring country, Sajjan Damani, who is handling the overseas distribution of Calendar Girls, says: `An application is sent to Pak culture ministry to secure an NOC so that a film can be imported for certification.

But, our application was declined since they had objections over a character who’s shown to be Pakistani. Therefore, the ministry has asked the censor board not to preview the film at all.`

Taking advantage
Referring to the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ cliche, distributor Girish Wankhede says, `Filmmakers, both big and small, use it as per their convenience. As soon as they get to know that their film is not getting censor clearance, many of them start giving out their reactions. In some cases, the PR machinery rides on it to keep the movie in news.`

Doesn’t matter
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh disagrees that filmmakers are capitalising on the negative publicity. `Because, it won’t benefit their business in India. In today’s time and age, the media is so aggressive that anything and everything makes news and especially when it’s related to Pakistan, it automatically makes headlines. About film certification in Pakistan, I don’t know how they function,` he states.

If a film is banned in any other part of the world, it does not affect its business in India, states Girish Johar of Essel Vision. `At the end of the day, it is the content that matters. A ban doesn’t help in any kind of promotions. Moreover, if a film doesn’t get censor certificate in one centre, it doesn’t mean that it is banned all over the country. But what generally happens is that the makers then don’t approach any other centre, assuming that they too won’t certify their film,` he adds.

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