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Our filmmakers: Trusted by all, not trusted at home

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India is in the process of shedding every irrelevant law, especially the ones enforced by the British Raj. Since the Government is in the process of abolishing these outdated and unnecessary laws, why not do away with film censorship?

The British introduced censorship of films to keep a check in case a filmmaker included anti-Raj content or messages to provoke Indians. They did not really care if a film depicted romance, implied sex or violence. Yet, the filmmakers got away by including song with a national fervour in the Raj era.

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Even in the UK, the country which introduced censorship of films in India, the censoring of films is now only concerned with age-wise rating. The board there was renamed Board for Classification and the word ‘censor’ has been removed. We renamed the censor board, but halfheartedly named it Board of Certification in place of Censors, which changed nothing!

Censorship of films has often been used to blackmail filmmakers. Films show action, not violence, murders or lynching, which seem to be the norm in the country, which just about every TV news channel telecasts. It is seen by old and young alike in every household but that can’t be censored. Action in films is meant to be entertaining and depicts good versus evil, which is what we are taught from birth.

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Our mythological epics, ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, both narrate violence in detail, and yet they are revered, quoted and cited on a regular basis. Whenever these epics were made into films or televised, were they censored? That would have angered the people.

Does a couple in love or married shown kissing on screen amount to sex? That was allowed even in the very early days of censorship in India by the British! Then, why did the Government of India consider it vulgar and ban it for years till it was allowed again from the 1970s onwards? All this in a country that boasts of the temples of Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where sex orgies are on exhibition in various details and we market it as a tourist attraction! In a country where we boast of the Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, an explicit ancient text as our ultimate sex guide (and this is not-mythologica)! How vain and hypocritical can we get?

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The present dispensation claims to run a corruption-free regime. How can any process be corruption-free when a number of controls are placed on it? There will not only be corruption, but also hindrances created in filmmaking here. The Censor Board has no teeth when it comes to compliance with its certification. Any goon or politician can get up and raise an issue, arouse public sentiments to start throwing stones at cinema theatres, and stop the screening of a duly certified film.

According to the law, CBFC certification is supposed to be the last word. Once a film is approved by the body, no one can object to it, let alone stop it (except a District Magistrate on certain grounds). But here, any stray complaint and trouble starts for the film. A film faces a break in its run or forced to discontinue, and there are numerous examples to show that once there is a break, a film loses its momentum at the box office.

It is not only the CBFC that a filmmaker has to contend with. Even before the display publicity starts, the original designs have to be cleared and stamped by a producers’ association. If you show a cat sitting on your lap, you need clearance from the Animal Welfare Board and, just to make it tougher, this body has been located at Ballabhgarh in Haryana, far, far away from the film industries in India. Again, depending on your theme, the Army or the National Commission for Women comes into the picture.

As per the CBFC rule book, using the word ‘saala’ is not permitted. Is this really a foul word? It is a tease word and the first that a child learns. It is a tease in that, when you call another lad a ‘saala’, you imply his sister to be your wife. You see it on TV shows such as Kapil Sharma’s. But, according to the Censors, it is not allowed. So what is allowed instead? The filthiest cuss words involving the mother and sister of another person, such as MC-BC, are okay as one may have observed in films lately.

When it comes to OTT programming, words such as MC-BC are used as if they are a part of the grammar, randomly, causelessly. Not only that, sex, rape, sodomy, etc. have been seen in many OTT features. All this happens under the very Censor authorities that deny clearance to films on the smallest of reasons. And guess what? The Government has recently granted OTT products autonomy. They need not go to the Censors, They are told to adopt self-regulation!

Imagine, the same producer makes a film as well as OTT streaming content. He can just go ahead and handover the content to his OTT platform for mass viewing and get his dues. But for his film, he will need to go through the CBFC rigmarole!

Why this different treatment in the same entertainment industry? One gets a smooth ride, while the other gets stuck in the rigmarole of Censors, facing hurdles such as title and publicity clearances, the Animal Welfare Board, and what have you! Is this the ease of doing business that the Government so proudly proclaims?

It looks like no Indian government treats filmmaking as a business, nor film production as an industry. Industry status was granted some years back, but it remains just in name. Are filmmakers some kind of sinners that they can’t even be granted self-regulation vis-a-vis the content of their films?

Is this the single-window clearance that the Government has been promising to just about every industry? For films, there is a maze of windows within windows.

Giving a free run to OTT platforms was not the only development. The UAE, among the most traditional group of countries, announced recently that it has decided to do away with the censorship of films. Indian movies that release in the UAE on a regular basis won’t need a censor clearance anymore. They trust our filmmakers. So why are they not trusted by our own Government to be responsible to the very society they belong to?

The film industry has been asking for self-regulation for years now and the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA) has recently raised the issue again with the Government, asking for self-regulation instead of censorship of films.

The very act of censoring films is the biggest contradiction to what the country stands for – the country of Khajuraho, the Kama Sutra, and Mahabharata, of which we boast.

–By Vinod Mirani

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