CENSORSHIP Boards are intended to ensure that creative licence has limits but not to the extent that it kills creativity. According to practitioners and stakeholders in the local film industry the new Film Censorship Board (LPF) guidelines might just achieve this; snuffing the creative juices of the industry. And that, too, it being targeted at Malay film content, ignores the reality of an industry which includes a vibrant non-Malay sector where the guidelines do not apply. Thus is produced a communal approach to filmmaking: the Malay (Muslim) films on the one side and, on the other, the non-Malay (non-Muslim) films. Within an industry which impacts greatly on the minds of moviegoers and television audiences, this is unhelpful as far as national integration is concerned. Malaysia must be portrayed as one, irrespective of the language, culture and religion. Where better then to put this across if not in films because what is portrayed on screen will, to a lesser or greater degree, affect the psyche of viewers and with it, perspectives.
This in no way advocates a licence to unbridled freedom. Indeed, the censor’s duty is to police the moral and political message that the content tries to send. But this cannot be communally based. A guideline must exist that informs the industry as a whole. After all, licentiousness verging on depravity is an across the board no-no and any such portrayal is exploiting creative licence in order to give pornography acceptability. Regardless of Hollywood’s arguments, some things are best not tampered with. Given that, and as proven by Hollywood itself, the violence and sex has helped create a generation greedy for nothing more than gratuitous violence the censorship board, therefore, is not a redundant body that has no role to play.
However, the new guidelines are hampering the Malay film industry by not admitting that the puritans are but one sect in a disparate world where bad things do happen. How is a filmmaker to create a rape scene when a man and a woman cannot be shown in a compromising pose? Or are Malay films not allowed to have such scenes? Indeed, restrictions may yet be the mother of invention, but more likely it will stifle. Is the Malay film industry to be confined to its own sanitised bubble where others have no right to intrude?
According to the guidelines there will be no more sexual or romantic scenes; morally questionable scenes where there is smoking, drug and alcohol use, men with rings and tattoos; scenes against cultural norms which include suicides and cross dressing; and, of course, violence. That about rules out everything deemed dramatic that can grip the viewer. How the director can cut dull scenes, splice drab sounds and wed them with impactful special effects to keep audiences at the edge of their seats is difficult to imagine. The Malay viewing public will be morally upright but bored out of their skulls enough to force them to watch Hollywood and Bollywood movies, reading subtitles notwithstanding. And people complain that Malay movies today have yet to outdo the late, great P. Ramlee’s directions!