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A dancer as Chairperson of the Indian Censor Board
- Anita Ratnam

March 28, 2011

Leela Samson has been thrust with another responsibility. Chairperson of the Indian Censor Board. Now, how come a dancer gets this role? Previous chairpersons were Hrishikesh Mukhjerjee, Vijay Anand, Anupam Kher and recently Sharmila Tagore... How come Leela Samson from the world of classical dance has been chosen? The announcement came as a total surprise and with her already many commitments as the most important and influential cultural czarina in the country, can she make the time for this important portfolio as well? There are only so many hours in a day to handle SNA, South Zone CC and Kalakshetra... a case for efficient arts administrators grows stronger.

Congratulations to Leela Samson. I wrote an article many months ago that she will become an MP soon in the Rajya Sabha with at least a Padma Bhushan or a Vibushan in the near future. But I never saw the Censor "gaddi" coming.


A third position to Leela Samson? Kalakshetra, Sangeet Natak Akademi and latest is Film Censor Board. Next could be a Rajya Sabha seat followed by Minister of Culture. Incredible India. Incredible Congress. And may be a last posting as President of India too. An offer rejected by Rukmini Devi Arundale. I respect Leela Samson as a dancer-choreographer and I have nothing against her. Strange the way things are going.

Where are all those concerned artists who had joined hands to remove Sonal Mansingh as Chairman of SNA? The only complaint against Sonal was that she is arrogant. Arrogance a disqualification against a person who was trying her best to stop corruption? Does the Indian constitution say no to dual official position? Or what does Leela know about films? Leela Samson to succeed after Sharmila Tagore in Film Censor Board? Very strange.
Incredible India.
GS Rajan (on facebook)
March 28, 2011

Ms Ambika Soni, Minister
Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
Government of India
A' Wing, Shastri Bhawan,
Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road,
New Delhi 110001

Respected Madam,

I am Asha Nayar-Basu, a lawyer and a partner in this prominent law firm, and I am also an artist.
I write to you as an ordinary citizen, regarding your ministry's decision to appoint Ms Leela Samson as the Censor Board Chief. Ms Samson is an outstanding dancer and an administrator, and there is no doubt about it. She is the SNA Chairperson and is also the head of Kalakshetra.

But I do not understand the logic behind overloading her with yet an added responsibility. Couldn't the ministry find any one from the theatre world, we have some of the finest theatre people in India- the ex-VC of SNA Rattan Thiyam, or directors like Ram Gopal Bajaj, Mohan Maharshi or Alyque Padamsee.
And If your ministry believes that Only a woman Must/ should head this body then why ignore the likes of Aparna Sen/ Usha Ganguly / Saoli Mitra /Neelam Mansingh /Arundhati Nag/ Mamata Shankar?
Even a well known art critics like Leela Venkataraman or Dr Sunil Kothari could have been considered. Or maybe some respected literary people like Namita Gokhle/ or Urvashi Butalia/ Geeti Sen.

Madam, I am the only woman partner in this firm, tokenism is not something am proud of. While Ms Samson is an outstanding dancer and choreographer she is not the only one who may be deemed to be most capable of heading this body.

I encourage you to look beyond the obvious names and give opportunities to other deserving and meritorious artists who may/may not be a part of Delhi's Dream Circle or are not already occupying a similar position in a national level organisation. Am sure given an opportunity such people will contribute immensely to the cause. Your party had once made an energetic effort to enforce the one-man-one-post norm, please consider and then act accordingly.

Yours sincerely
Asha Nayar-Basu (via email)
March 29, 2011

Many have expressed surprise in private conversations and in public domain. Asha has made a point of the party's earlier decision, 'one post, one person. etc etc

Leela Samson must have given a good thought before accepting this position. Many a time, one does not know one's capacity to do 'multi tasking' and Leela may have felt 'challenged 'and perhaps that must have been her decision to accept this position. She is known for her efficiency and has proved that she could take care of Kalakshetra, can also manage the affairs of SNA with a team of people as members of Executive Board and General Council, and a Secretary, and even in case of Censor Board, there will be a group of people to assist her.

One has to see if she becomes 'a titular head' and a mere 'dummy' to serve the 'vested interest' of the world of film people.

Sunil Kothari (via email)
March 31, 2011.

Am totally against Leela Samson being the head of the film board but why are there no voices of protests coming from the film industry itself? WHY don't they themselves debate the issue and discuss it in the media. Don't they have anyone amongst them....that is surprising..... and she herself wants to wear so many hats......being a dancer, administrator, aesthete...what are the other special qualifications she has to head such an important time consuming office as the censor board and will it not interfere with the working of the other bodies that need as much time and are challenging to lead too. if the government wanted to have someone from another artistic field to head the censor board there are mainly writers, theatre people who would have gladly filled in.....

We do need a debate in this issue.
Ajay Jaisinghani (via email)
April 1, 2011

I agree with what Sunil Kothari says about Leela's tremendous ability to rise to all kinds of challenges. That and her integrity for me, are two very important features - apart from the fact that she is a great administrator. I admit that she has a lot on her plate at the moment. But that is for her to decide - and I can be sure of one thing - that she will not agree to take up what she feels she is not capable of doing justice to.
Leela Venkataraman (via email)
April 2, 2011

Dance is political. Dance is amplified in film. In theory this is GREAT. Why can't it work?

I think there is a link between film and dance that can only serve dance if we acknowledge and work with it. Bollywood is the reason why there is so much interest in the classical and 'folk" forms forms in the diaspora. I see girls on Indian TV doing hiphop acrobatics that their parents would never have permitted them to do even 10 years ago! ... [ It is too aggressive for girls. It will frighten away prospective husbands] The kind of physical confidence and body -knowledge I saw that day, must be freeing. We need husbands who win us by love and understanding, not manipulation

It is time to open many gateways to cultural and bodily awareness. Experienced dancers understand this and can serve well on the film censorship policymaking board so long as they are not bound by Victorian puritanical gendered biases. So why not strengthen the link between dance and film?

Dance is political. Wake up and see whose dances are up on Utube....

Why do underdeveloped countries seriously export their dancers? To convince the dominant 'cultures' of the depth and richness of the alternative cultures? (Remember how in the Brit musical 'King & I' the British decide not to invade Siam - now Thailand - because they served the Empire's representative with a sumptuous meal with golden forks and knives to show how civilized they were in Siam.) Has this kind of soft diplomacy changed? Naa. For dancers in economically growing countries, stakes are still very high. Dance-as-culture has even more meanings and layers. Our dance and dancers have to work the system - whether it is to resolve as to who they are (identity & subjectivity issues), or whether it is to negotiate social perceptions and the market for survival. Our dances are getting better and stimulating more interest because there is so much passionate investment in dance. Why pretend that dance exists in some kind of art-sealed vacuum? Documentation and visibility in any form - poetry, fiction or webmail and reportage- is power (used or abused).

A dancer as Leela, (experienced in the ways of Delhi bureaucracy) working with film censorship policies can offer a vision that could encourage interactions between living bodies, subjectivity and dance imagery in film. The BODY is lethal as a negotiation of identity. And dance even more so in subtle and obvious ways. I believe this is a link up we really need.

It becomes a matter for Leela to lend vision, but delegate responsibilities to efficient and committed film industry personnel who can follow through. See image of Obama.

Uttara Coorlawala
April 6, 2011

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