Art versus Artful Commerce

Is nudity art or commerce? Is pillow talk in visual or print art or commerce? Is bedroom activity in full details in films, art or commerce? Is selective screening of alluring, seductive, provocative or captivating scenes in films, art or commerce? As film is a moving medium as against other art forms which are static, is a dose of bedroom activity art and the full film sheer porn to be x-rated? Why do producers of the first kind resent the censors and object to anyone playing the “moral police” by cutting scenes they find “offensive” and the film director finds perfectly suited for the script or theme of the film? Why do these same set of producers and directors play the moral police themselves when they brand a full length movie devoted completely to the hot scenes not only in the bedroom but in the open fields, by the lake, at a riverside or a beach as porn? What differentiates art from porn? Are the borders between the two forms of artistic expression well drawn? If yes, what is it? If not, why this ambiguity?

It is ambiguity which causes conflict between stakeholders and interest groups. In the absence of clarity, the worst sufferers are the readers and the viewers, who fail to steer clear of such fluidity. Debates are raised around tradition & modernity, taboos & openness, mores & fashions, custom & novelty, values & infractions, character & immorality. Nobody can say with lawful authority as to what is art and what is porn? Depending on the degree of pillow talk and number of hot shots, the same product may either get entangled in the debate or get away with the certificate of art or even be damned as pure porn. An innocent reader/viewer may suffer the trauma of guilt if what s/he was reading/viewing as art turns out to be porn or what was abandoned as porn becomes a literary best seller in due course or an Academy Award winner.  Surely, the word of the producer or the director is of no value as they have a “commercial interest” in the product, which weighs heavier over their judgment on matters of “art/artistic value”.

Public opinion, especially from well informed quarters, cannot be ignored totally even though it might hit the commercial interests adversely. While nobody prescribes limits on creative ventures or artistic production, critics have subjected all forms of literary and other artistic products to some measure of  value judgment and pronounced some of them as “unacceptabe” over millennia. It is also true that many products found unacceptable at a particular time became popular at a later date. Art is meant to entertain and also provoke. Art gives happiness; it elevates the spirits; it transforms the being.

As the exchange of ideas among countries in the Twentieth Century opened up rich treasures of creative assets for mutual benefit and technology provided additional power for human advancement, societies experienced revolutionary changes in the way people think and communicate. The old thinking of East is East and West is West and the Twin Can Never Meet has disappeared like the Berlin Wall. There is free exchange of ideas and free communication. It has certainly enriched the world of art and literature. At the same time, it has created some problems too. One such problem is about the “freedom” of speech & expression. This problem has nowhere else been highlighted  than in Indian films. The Indian film producers and Directors have not only been influenced by the content and communication of western films but have been pushing such half cooked stuff as original only to make a commercial success of their venture in the Indian market, taking advantage of the vacuum created by many taboos in the society. It is not as if Indians are not familiar with the thrilling world of sexual pleasures. Far from it, they are masters of it. The only thing is the legacy of the masters on the subject who chose to display restraint and sensitivity in the matter for reasons of public health or Law & Order. They had gone deep in the matter where none else has so far gone and left it at that, leaving their knowledge in treatises like the Kaamsutra, paintings and stone carvings like those in Konark or Khajuraho.

The contrast between the Indian and Western approach to the subject can be better appreciated if the language used in the two is analyzed. In India it is “kaam “  and  “Sex” in English. Sex can at best be the equivalent of kaam kridaa. In India, Kaam is one of the four Purushartha or attributes of an individual. But it is placed at serial number three among four of these attributes in this order: Dharma, Artha, Kaam and Moksha. For a healthy experience of kaam in life one would do better to first do all duty such as education or skill development. Thereafter take up employment or other means of earning lawful income to provide for the family. Having achieved these two goals first, one can always enjoy kaam to fulfill his/her vaasna or desires. Kaam leads the person to Moksha or salvation ( emancipation or freedom). The person becomes free through knowledge, experience and satisfaction of desires. Once the individual gets over worldly desires of the flesh and moves into the realm of high thinking, it is called the stage of Moksha.

Spiritual leaders, and more than them the religious leaders, have portrayed Moksha as the end result of God experience. It is a misinterpretation. There is no exclusive club for those who achieve Moksha somewhere in the Swarga (Heaven). There is no transport facility available for them to migrate to another planet. Moksha is meant to be achieved here in life on Earth as people are expected to enjoy life fully once they achieve freedom from desires or ignorance. Were they to start with sex first, they would never have achieved the freedom and ended up frustrated individuals.

There lies the contrast between the Indian and the Western life style. In India, publication of Sex magazines is prohibited, whereas they are freely available in western countries. Because access to such publications is denied to the Indian people, the films want to take advantage of the situation by providing limited access to such hot material. It is nobody’s case that Indians don’t enjoy such material or conjugal  life as they wish. What is objected is the marketing gimmick to charm and entice the first time visitor by  selective exposure and seduction for making money out of human weakness of the flesh. If the argument of the producers is based on the logic of creative freedom, there is no objection to first opening the market to everyone equally and not to the noise makers alone. However, as a first step, India has to allow free publications and  markets displaying everything that is considered taboo by Indian standards without any censor or inhibition. Once the market offers all that the bold films seek to dish out, there will be no clients for these films and no controversies.   Let us see how many of our creative film makers, novelists, writers, intellectuals, academicians and activist for freedom of speech and expression buy regularly these magazines and keep them in home for their children to enjoy them. They can’t say it is not done even in the western countries- they will prove themselves absolutely wrong as these publications can be found even in the children’s  room in those countries. The reality is that all these advocates of freedom watch porn after putting their children to sleep, giving their children no right to freedom to watch whatever they want. Those who live a life of double standards have to talk logically without attacking the censors or their critics. They should also stop mis-selling the West to us. The West is not as free as they would like us to believe. The West has strong ethical standards and value systems about which our creative geniuses are ignorant or don’t find profitable to refer to. Many of them can be found to be sheepishly pleading to be spared of punishment for their unacceptable behavior on the plea “you see, we are Indian”. These creative geniuses would do better to study seriously any subject they choose to take up for film making, especially concerning women related topics like female libido.

The utter insensitivity displayed by many advocates of freedom only betrays their lack of sufficient knowledge of the subjects like man-woman relations, the urban living, modern tensions, marriage, divorce, re-marriage, rejection of tradition, missing religion in life, money, friendship, loyalty, government, politics, economy, globalization, nationalism, violence , peace and hundred other issues. It is tempting to make a film on widows, female libido or revolving door marriages, but how many books of any international standard have been written by any of our creative geniuses on the subject so far? Not only that, how many books written by Western authors have been purchased and read by them? They would not read here a few titles published abroad as they would find them offending. The Western countries have pursued serious research on women’s issues and produced classics on the various aspects relating to them. The research papers and surveys produced by them are a valuable source of information. Can their findings be simply borrowed and used in the Indian films without assessing their applicability to the Indian social milieu? If the Indian film makers are genuinely interested in producing films on women related issues, they should study some of these publications to lend some authenticity to their products, instead of trying to exploit the market by partial or full nude scenes and diaphanous drapes under the shower or waterfall. It serves no purpose to come down heavily on the censors under the impression of media created lack of freedom of speech to attack the prime minister.

The people don’t trust the media anymore. The editors and journalist as the Fourth Estate of democracy have forfeited the trust of the people. They are taken no different from any business venture low on fair business practices. The television industry has proved that they don’t deserve the mass respect the journalist used to enjoy in the 20th Century. Films have gone one step farther: they have blurred the boundaries of art and porn.

Art leads the viewer to happiness and tranquility through catharsis. Art cleanses emotions. Art subjects thoughts and ideas to rigorous critical test before accepting them. Porn, on the contrary titillates but causes frustration, emptiness, depression soon; it demeans, not elevates; it debases whereas art sublimates; it ends in pain. But  art is only happiness. If the Indian film makers were to produce an art film with scenes of complete nudity, nobody will object to it. The only condition is that it should be original. No borrowed ideas, no plagiarism, no cut & paste work.

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