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An Open Letter..

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Open Letter to Mr Narendra Modi

A Bollywood film called ‘Udta Punjab’ is to be released on 17th June, this year. A film I, and many others across India and the rest of the world, have been eagerly waiting for. Unfortunately, I have recently learnt that the Central Board of Film Certification (Censor Board) are censoring the film because of its subject matter; drugs.

I do not live in India, I live in the U.K. but that does not mean I am happy with this new controversial development surrounding the fate of this movie. Frankly, I am appalled with this decision to cut over 80 scenes from the movie as well removing the very essence of the plot; the state of Punjab.

My parents were born and bred in Punjab, my grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. My life is enriched with the culture and traditions of Punjab. I may very well be British but my heritage originates from Punjab. I, like many other Indian citizens, am concerned about this decision made by the censor board, for a variety of reasons.

Removing Punjab from ‘Udta Punjab’ defies the whole point of the film. ‘Udta Punjab’ will depict the horrifyingly high usage of drugs in Punjab, where over 70% of the youth are drug addicts. By taking Punjab out of the equation you are allowing the state to get away with issues that should be dealt with head on. Do you honestly believe people aren’t aware? I have visited Punjab many times and I have witnessed first hand the complications that arise from drugs and how the government of Punjab and India are idly sitting on their hands whilst a state tumbles head first towards its death.

For the first time, ever, someone has decided to finally speak about the issue of drugs and now you are doing everything in your power to stop them from highlighting a message that affects the future of your country? Not once has anything been done to try and reduce the use of drugs in Punjab. The government is fine with the state getting destroyed by drugs misuse but what irritates them is when someone brave enough comes along and makes a film on it. The hypocrisy of the Indian government baffles me.

The Punjabi government is known for banning films that portray the reality of their misdeeds and to some extent, if I put myself in their shoes for a minute, I can understand their (deluded) need to hide their mistakes. In the past, a couple of Punjabi movies have been banned in Punjab because of their subject matter. However this did not stop the outcry and outrage of the thousands of Punjabis around the world. The movies were shared on social media and were tremendously successful abroad, I should know, I watched them too.  But enough is enough.

Anurag Kashyap (a film director and producer) recently tweeted this:

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I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. I find it encouraging to see well known and critically acclaimed Bollywood directors putting their foot down and protesting against the censor board.

A lot of Bollywood movies have ‘item numbers’; songs that show female actors dancing and singing in a sexualised manner. I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea of item numbers purely because of the degrading manner in which female actors are portrayed. I have the uttermost respect for Bollywood actors and actresses that branch away from such sexism and provide entertainment through films that actually have a moral and ethical tie to them. ‘Udta Punjab’ is one of those films and it sickens me that the movie is being cut so those who place themselves on a pedestal can continue to live their privileged lives without any obstructions.

Drugs, rape, sexism, dowry, discrimination, homophobia are subjects that deserve to be spoken about. The youth of India deserves to be shown the truth about its country. The highest platform to get that point across is the Bollywood movie industry. With the exception of cricket, the Bollywood movie industry has the biggest impact on Indian citizens. Filmmakers who use that as an advantage to spread good are the ones I respect and when a filmmaker is using the same platform to talk about an issue that the majority of India needs to know about, why are they being hushed up? For what reason?

Mr Modi, you have constantly said that India is a tolerant country. Is it? When its own government and constitution cannot comprehend the importance of freedom of speech and expression, how can you expect your citizens to follow through?

Punjab is my hometown. I love the people, the traditions and culture that lives within Punjab. But if drug misuse is not brought under control, Punjab’s youth will descend towards their death. Growing up, I saw Punjab as a state that flourished with vibrancy. Now all I see is the aftermath of a state forgotten by its government and left to fend for itself. ‘Udta Punjab’ deserves to be shown in India and across the world. Those 80+ scenes deserve to be shown and Punjab itself needs to be brought to the forefront of every Indian’s mind because without that, the state and the people of Punjab and other states across India will continue to suffer.

Simran Gill

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