The issue is sexual repression. You can’t ban it away. Or solve it on Twitter
We have become a nation of angry people. In the last one year, we have witnessed how the common man, overcome with rage, has taken to the streets, to protest, to react and to say “no”. Rage is good when it gets you to go out and deal with what you have a problem with. But I do think that, somewhere, our collective rage is going out of control. We have stopped thinking rationally.
In the guise of rage and outrage — Twitter’s favourite currency — we are in danger of becoming a nation of lynch mobs. We are on the lookout for a soft target and once we spot it, we take out all our pent up rage on him/her. This is what I feel has happened with the recent case of Punjabi bhangra rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh.
Let’s be real — nobody was aware of his songs until this controversy about the lyrics flared up. These songs have been on the net for years and they were dying a quiet death. Even I wasn’t aware of them, or of Honey Singh.
I’m defending him because I have a problem with this irrational behaviour that we as a nation seem to be now showing. We are getting caught up in a kind of elitism — intellectual, moral and even at the level of individual conscience — where some people, mostly on Twitter, deem themselves intellectually or morally superior to decide what is good or bad for a majority of us.
Certainly, you can have a problem with what Honey Singh is singing (just for the record, the song “Balatkari” was written not by him but by the Pakistani band Zeest and I absolutely agree that those are horrendous lyrics). But that doesn’t mean you ban him. He has a right to exist and sing about what he wants to. We have the choice not to listen to the song or go to his concert. Singers like Honey Singh exist because there is a market for them — there are consumers who consume his content. He is the symptom of the problem, not its root.
The issue we need to address is that of mindset. The issue is repression. Where does the song “C***t” come from? It comes from repression. It’s the lament of a boy who has been rejected by a girl and is expressing his feelings musically. It might be a crass song but crass also has the right to exist. If we don’t want the lyricist to write songs like these, we need to enter into a dialogue with him. We need to shame him. But we can’t ban him by saying that his lyrics are causing rapes. If you do that, then how are you different from the khap panchayats who insist that girls who wear skirts invite rape?
As a country, repression is one of our biggest problems. You can’t tackle repression with suppression. The fact is that boys and girls in our country don’t know how to interact with each other. When I was 16-17 years-old, I went to college in Varanasi and I remember I was so stunned to see girls in skirts that I couldn’t stop staring at a girl’s legs. A girl came up to me and completely shamed me by asking why I was behaving in that manner. The fact was that I had never seen girls in skirts. I came from a small town where girls were always covered up. Those three years that I spent in college, interacting with girls, changed my mindset.
I made Gangs of Wasseypur and people were laughing at all the wrong places. Mostly at the gaalis. Where did that laughter come from? While watching a horror film, people laugh out of fear but in this case they were laughing out of repression. Saying the unspeakable got them laughing. That’s what happens with songs like “Balatkari”.
There is so much comment on the objectification of women in item songs. These songs exist because people flock to the theatres to watch them. Filmmaking is a business that needs consumers to survive. If people go to the theatres and endorse these films and these songs, Friday after Friday, then what are we supposed to do? A film like I Am comes and disappears, a film like Chittagong is released and nobody goes to see it. You talk of filmmakers and pop culture taking a firm stand on social responsibility. Well, then I think it’s the individual’s prerogative whether or not he or she takes the responsibility. Each and every one of us should take this responsibility. But we can’t force it on anyone.
Howsoever offensive something is, you are not going to solve it by banning it. You can boycott it, but you can’t stop it from existing. If there is a poisonous creeper on a tree, we need to nurture it differently. We can’t cut down the tree and expect the problem will be solved.
I’ve gone through this grind for 20 years. I made Paanch and people said the same things about me that they are saying about Honey Singh. I’ve also been banned but I still make the films I want to. I have suffered it.
People need to understand that there is diversity, intellectual as well as moral. This diversity makes up society and every society has its share of the tragic and the unfair. If you want to change something, become that change yourself. Begin at home. Stop buying the content that offends you. But you can’t stop others from making that content. We live in a world where all kinds of pornographic material is freely available on the internet. The internet even teaches you how to make a bomb! How much will you ban?
Agreed, we have archaic rape laws and the government has been ineffectual at handling the issue of women’s safety, but this is a social problem. A single individual is not responsible for it. You can’t put a finger on a single person or a single film and say this is what is causing rapes in the country. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and bring about change.
And let’s not fool ourselves — Twitter won’t bring the change.
The writer is a filmmaker