There is a poignant moment in the documentary ‘The Romantics’ where filmmaker Aditya Chopra reflects back on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks that shook the entire country. At the time, his production company had been gearing up for the release of his upcoming romantic comedy film ‘Rab Ne Banadi Jodi’. Many of his colleagues had urged him to push forward the dates to prevent an uproar. Chopra said in the documentary that he knew that more than ever, that was the time people needed a reminder of joy and happiness in their lives, so he decided to stick with the original date. When the film released in cinemas across India, it became a hit.
Currently in the state ‘Bannistan’ is in, with our economy struggling, inflation rising and more women finding it difficult to access public spaces without the fear of sexual assault or harassment, we have now developed an allergy to joy. Anything that prompts laughter or makes people happy. Solution: ban it. We ban our films, we call for festivals to be stopped because of fears like “western sazish” or “anti-Islamic” and then we wonder why our upcoming generation has no creative skills or any motivation to find work.
Art is not just a prop to promote state policies, but a way to encourage members of society to find joy and reflect on the way they are living their life. We need art because it encourages us to express our inner selves and also because it is a powerful way to spread messages on social issues to the masses. Perhaps this is why art terrifies our public officials so much, and why it is censored more than any other industry in this country. We label the art we don’t like as ‘immoral’ because it is the only medium that can reflect the tabooed topics we are so afraid to speak about. Consider dramas in the past like “Dil Na Umeed to Nahi” which got several notices from PEMRA because it discussed the issue of child sex trafficking, and the difficulties survivors face in rehabilitating themselves. Another notice was sent to ban hugs or caressing, because God forbid any marriage is seen as being happy or affectionate. But we refuse to think about the numerous domestic violence and abuse scenes we watch on our screens every day.
A few days ago, a video began trending online featuring Bollywood day at LUMS, where students showed up dressed as their favorite characters from movies and dramas. But in response, social media users began criticizing the university for promoting vulgarity, and called the participants “kanjarkhana”
Slur words are labels that we put on people who do not conform to the idea that it is shameful to seek celebration and joy in our lives, and words like these can be traced to our colonial roots. The British had demoralized the kunjar community in the sub-continent, a nomadic community of folk entertainers. As Jasir Shahbaz writes for Samaa, under the British rule, the kanjar community had been socially outcasted and under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, they were listed as “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.”
These terms are thriving under the ongoing reign of Bannistan: shame anyone who works in entertainment as a ‘kanjari’. We criticize female actors for performing on screens, deem women who seek their independence or protest for equal rights as loose and immoral, when in reality anything that challenges our misogynist and regressive mindset is improving our lives.
In defense of the students who celebrated the end of their University days and any other woman out there trying to live her life, kanjari is an empowering term because it means we’re celebrating life. In times of repression and censorship, celebrating art can be the greatest form of living because it allows us to represent ourselves on screen. And gives space to every individual in society, regardless of caste or background. So instead of shaming these children for celebrating Bollywood day or just protesting in the streets, hold back your thoughts and just go about your own day if you’re not interested in what they have to say. Because now more than ever, we need joy in our lives. We need a reason to keep moving and find solace in the countless stories we see in films or read.