(Published on June 11, 2016 in Business Standard)
When I was sixteen, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception convinced me that mind-altering substances were the way forward. I would know the colour of sound. I would see music! I would touch the most exalted parts of my brain, and the grottiest, and never be bored.
I took my first drag of marijuana in college, bright-eyed with expectation. Nothing happened, so I took three more quick ones. Suddenly I was boiling from the inside, skidded out of the door into a Pennsylvania winter storm, fainted into a snowdrift, and had to be dragged inside. After four head-spinning hours, when the panic attack subsided, I concluded that drugs were horrible, and left them the hell alone.
Twenty-five years later, a kindly felon chaperoned me through the right way to smoke the stuff, and I finally discovered why people go on about it. There I was, lifting through the inconsequential material roof of my skull, trying to float out clear to the stars, moored to the planet only because I was holding on to my chair. So that’s why people do drugs: unreality is much nicer.
It’s so appealing, in fact, that despite our strong Indian traditions of drug use typified by ascetics, Holi revellers, and Shiva, we also continually strive to achieve unreality without substances. It has become cultural second nature, probably because our realities are so nasty.
Thus the strange case of The-State-That-Must-Not-Be-Named in the movie Udta Punjab, which is currently giving everyone hives for completely opposite reasons. It’s a movie about the raging, tragic drug problem in Punjab. That seems like an important, necessary movie, right? But under the marijuana-like influence of the Central Board of Film Certification’s chief nitwit, Pahlaj Nihalani, Udta Punjab is being turned into a movie about someone, somewhere, doing something, beside a signboard that maybe threatens the sovereignty of India. The CBFC has removed bad words like ‘election’ and ‘MP’, and turned Udta Punjab into a movie floating up through our skulls, unmoored to any kind of reality. Nihalani’s imbecilic political and cultural instincts set off his alarms 89 times in that film, for reasons of swearing, for wanton use of the name ‘Punjab’ for the place ‘Punjab’, and for generally being offensively spot on. On Planet Nihalani, reality is defamation. The most unusual howls of protest from Bollywood have shown that even people known for party drugs draw the line somewhere.
The Shyam Benegal-led committee, set up this year to review the certification process, recommended a new category of certification, for which Udta Punjab may qualify: A/C, or ‘adult with caution’. A/C-certified films will be screened not at theatres near residential areas, but in, for example, red light areas. Puzzling, wot? Do cautious adults not live in residential areas? Are adults who take their kids out to the movies incapable of picking suitable movies? Are cautious adults only allowed to go to red light areas to demonstrate their caution? It’s all very confusing—or, in real, non-marijuana terms, barking mad. Benegal reportedly said that the Punjab government might be upset by the suggestion, in Udta Punjab, that parts of the government collude with the drug mafia, when, in fact, “the government is doing a great deal to curb this menace.” This suggests that Benegal and Nihalani both confuse the function of film certification with the function of keeping the state happy.
The point is, people, you can’t just go around confusing art with reality! You have to confuse it with political spin. That’s what it takes to pass anything in this joint—in which case, I’ll pass on that joint.
Kids: Just say no.