Pranesh Gautam, a young comedian, is in custody for the last one week simply because he made a critical and satirical review of Nepali movie Bir Bikram 2. Police authority has not shown any sign of setting him free despite protests from youths, civil society and social media users for his release. We believe that nobody should be arrested simply for speaking critically of a movie or any work of art and demand immediate release of Pranesh Gautam. It all started with comedian Gautam uploading a video on May 22 criticizing Bir Bikram 2. In the video, Gautam says that the movie is the direct copy of Indian movie, Sholay, there is nothing interesting about its plot, and that performance of actors is below the standard and then advises audience not to watch it. Cautiously, he also says one should watch this movie otherwise movie makers would ‘beat me up.’ Apparently, Milan Chams, the director of the movie took it as a direct attack on his work and filed the case against Gautam at the police, which resulted in his arrest.
Gautam’s arrest, or even the police case against him, is unwarranted for two main reasons. First, anyone has the right to like or dislike a particular movie or work of art and can express their views about it publicly. This does not belittle the worth of the movie, for if the movie is really good, no matter what a person says about it or writes about it, people will love to watch it anyway. When it comes to books or movies, readers and audience are ultimate judges. There are instances of even heavily criticized movies getting popular approval and doing a good business. Thus it is not appropriate for a moviemaker to get the reviewer arrested simply because the reviewer is not commenting on the movie to the liking of the filmmaker. There still is a room for Chams to settle the issue through reconciliation. Second, Gautam has criticized a movie. He has not spread hate or given statements against national independence and sovereignty or communal harmony. Speaking against a movie does not, and should not, amount to crime. Our constitution has granted right to expression to the citizens.
Arresting a person simply for speaking for or against certain issue and then subjecting him/her to police custody in trumped up charges can set a dangerous precedent. In the days to come, anyone who speaks critically against the authorities might land in trouble. This is the precedent Nepali democracy must guard itself against. Anyone who has watched the video can see that Gautam is mimicking, being satirical and humorous in his presentation. And satire, humor, reviews, criticism are all part of a vibrant democracy. Nepali society is largely tolerant of opposing views. Police authority and film director need to realize this fact. Supporters of Gautam complain that they have not been given any chance to offer their explanation. When Republica spoke to Aayush Shrestha, Gautam’s supporter, who is campaigning to secure his release, Wednesday afternoon he said: “They are not even ready to hear our explanation.” He claimed that the police is listening only to the director and proceeding with the case accordingly. Film director Milan Chams, Gautam’s supporters claim, is determined to teach Gautam ‘a lesson’. This is unwarranted. Nobody should be landed in a prison just for speaking critically of a movie. Let us not make a mockery of our democracy. Free Pranesh Gautam.