Gajabaja: What’s in a name ?

A Nepali film has been rejected by the Film Development Board because it contains the word gaja in its name

In a ridiculous decision, the Film Development Board (FDB) of Nepal has withheld the approval of upcoming movie Gajabaja, directed by independent filmmaker Ganesh Dev Pandey. The fate of its release is still uncertain. The FDB was particularly concerned over the use of the word gaja (marijuana), apparently because marijuana use is illegal in Nepal.

Shocked, Pandey has filed a writ motion in the Supreme Court on behalf of the production house ‘Tuka Entertainment’ challenging the FDB decision. A year has already passed and Pandey is still fighting to win this war for freedom of expression in Nepal.

Pandey, who has already directed successful movies like Manjari and Malati ko Bhatti had sought permission from FDB after completing all required procedures. But he was told the film cannot be granted approval, as per the order of FDB chairman Raj Kumar Rai. Rai argues that Nepal’s Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act (2033) categorizes marijuana as a narcotic drug, banning its purchase, sale and transport. Hence Gajabaja cannot be granted permission for it contains the word gaja. Pandey was told the word gaja promotes marijuana consumption.

Marijuana was legal in Nepal before the Act was introduced in 1976. But its controlled use for medicinal and recreational purposes has been legalized in many European countries as well as a number of American states such as Washington, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Colorado.

Filmmaker Pandey says he chose the name Gajabaja because the story and the movie theme demand it. This name is the soul of the movie, which is why he is against changing it, Pandey argues. So he has taken the matter to the court after investing a huge sum of money to make the film.

Pandey says movies are part of freedom of expression and he has the right to make movies without any hurdles from government authorities. If the movie contains objectionable scenes and if it is seen to promote conflict and social evil, the authorities have the right to ban it, he says. But Gajabaja does not do any of these.

The prolonged delay of the apex court greatly worries the director, causing him both financial difficulties as well as mental stress.

A funky song “Tripping on a happy mood” of this movie was released on YouTube and became popular among youngsters. This song has now been removed from YouTube. However, a teaser of the movie has been released recently, also on YouTube, and it is getting amazing response from viewers.

Young characters in the movie smoke marijuana with the music in the background. This is why the movie was named Gajabaja: gaja standing for marijuana and baja referring to musical instruments.

Gajabaja may be the first movie on the subject of marijuana and narcotic consumption in Nepal. But there are hundreds of such movies in Hollywood and Bollywood with drugs, narcotics and marijuana as their central theme. Marihuana (1936), The Opium Eater (1962), Kid Cannabis (2014), Leaves of Grass (2009), Pineapple Express (2008) and Pulp Fiction (1994) are examples from Hollywood. The 2013 blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street featuring Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the life of a billionaire stockbroker who abuses narcotics. Bollywood movie Udta Punjab, featuring Sahid Kapoor, has narcotics and drugs at its central plot. None of these movies had to face such a tough time as Gajabaja.

The message, more than the name, is the movie’s most important element. Pandey points to film names with criminal reference: Don, Murder, Loot, Gundaraj, Killer, Apaharan, Khalanayak etc. If Gajabaja promotes narcotics use, argues Pandey, Apaharan also promotes kidnapping and Murder promotes killing. But these movies didn’t bother the censors.

Pandey has sought help from various sectors to resolve the problem. He met with Information Minister Surendra Karki, who is reported to have said the inclusion of word gaja in film name does not necessarily breach the law. Minister Karki promised with him to take immediate steps to resolve the case. But it has not happened.

We have a tendency to accept injustice in our daily life because of the corrupt system. But filmmaker Pandey believes that if he doesn’t speak up and fight for his rights today, others will also fall victim to the corrupt system in the days ahead.

Pandey says it’s a filmmaker’s duty to expose the social reality and he believes he has done so in  Gajabaja.

The entire Nepali film fraternity, including renowned filmmakers Nischal Basnet, Khagendra Lamichhane, Sunil Pokhrel, Sunil Thapa and Deepak Raj Giri have supported Pandey’s quest for justice. They protested FDB decision as “an attempt to curb the creativity and individual rights of a filmmaker.”

The film still awaits justice from the Supreme Court. Pandey hopes for the best and rightly believes that the FDB should work to promote good movies, not censor them by going beyond its jurisdiction.