Kabali and censorship

Have you watched Kabali, the latest Rajnikanth movie?

It has been out in cinemas for more than a month and last I checked, the movie is still playing in cinemas, albeit on its last legs.

Apart from the Indian superstar the movie stars Radhika Apte, Dhansika, Dinesh Ravi, Kalaiyarasan, John Vijay and Taiwanese actor Winston Chao, alongside local actors Rosyam Nor and Norman Hakim.

The movie is almost entirely set in Malaysia. It tells the story of a Malaysian of Tamil Indian ethnicity, the titular character Kabali, his trials and tribulations as a gangster and a community leader.

What is interesting about Kabali is that it is also a film about the challenges faced by the Tamil community. Issues such as gangsterism, social problems and marginalisation provide the backdrop for the story.

It may be a film from India, but it is very much a Malaysian story. The filmmakers wanted to make the film as authentic as possible, and although some aspects were inaccurate, for the most part the film succeeds in this regard.

When a film touches on the "sensitive" topic of ethnicity, controversy is sure to follow. And true enough, Kabali has its fair share.

The Film Censorship Board (LPF) cut certain scenes from being shown in Malaysia. In addition, the ending of the film has also been changed for audiences here.

These changes were made upon the advice of the police, in order to purportedly "manage the racial sensitivities" of the various ethnic groups in the country.

There is a particular scene, at the climax of the movie when Kabali's enemies used a racial slur on him and proceeded to insult ethnic Tamils. This scene has been cut from the Malaysian version, yet is readily available and accessible on YouTube.

Such censorship of films shown in Malaysia is not new. Before this, many scenes were cut from movies because they contained scenes that were too violent or sexual, and sometimes as in the case of Kabali, scenes were cut because of their political, religious or racial nature. Some movies are banned altogether from Malaysia.

I would argue that censorship is no longer necessary.

LPF issues out film classifications based on the contents of the movie. There are three certificates. "U" for all ages, "P13" for films in which those under 13 years of age require the supervision of adults or guardians to watch and lastly "18" for films which can only be watched by those above 18 years of age.

If a film contains scenes which are sensitive or controversial, the film can be rated as "18". Only adults are allowed to watch these films. LPF can also issue a short explanation as to why the movie so rated, for example because it contains violent scenes or scenes which may offend or disturb certain sensitivities.

With the classification by LPF, the scenes in Kabali should not have been censored. The ending should not have been changed. An "18" certificate should be enough to ensure that only adults will watch the film, adults who presumably would be mature enough to watch a movie and react in a rational manner.

This is especially so in today's modern world, where information is so readily accessible on one's fingertips. Even though the controversial scenes were cut from the cinemas, it does not prevent people from viewing the scenes online. So the censorship of Kabali, if the objective was to prevent people from watching these scenes, would not achieve its purpose.

I do not agree with everything that is portrayed by Kabali. I am sure there would be many who would find some of the elements in the movie to be objectionable or disagreeable. But Malaysians are rational enough and mature enough not to react in a violent manner just because of a couple of scenes in a movie.

At the end of the day, in a democratic nation, ideas should be allowed to spread and contested, not shut down or cut off.

Censorship does not work anymore, if it ever worked before. Blocking websites, banning books and censoring movies, all are borne from the notion that the state knows what is best for the people. A notion that is increasingly outdated, especially in today's borderless world.

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