Friday, October 10, 2008

Film Censorship: Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang

In the upcoming movie HELLO, Gul Panag's character - right before she is about to have sex with someone - utters the line: "Do you have a condom?"  At the outset this seems like a fairly responsible thing to depict in the movie.

Reportedly the Indian Censor Board doesn't quite feel the same way and had the makers of the movie bleep the word 'condom' out. Thus we might face the prospect of Gul Panag saying "Do you have a bleep?" and then engaging in coitus right after. I fail to see how this will result in better morals, but then there might be a reason or two I'm not on the Central Board of Film Certification hanging with the Chair Sharmila Tagore.

Censorship is a rather polarizing topic. Lots of people don't agree with the censors - but they are not often on the same side of the fence. And I find myself seeing multiple facets to every single argument that makes its way into this topic.

Let's start with the age old argument of how censorship impacts freedom of speech. True that! But let's look a little closer: why do film makers care? After all no one is censoring their movie. Its just a rating. (Remember the hue and cry over music ratings and the general hatred directed at highly visible proponent Tipper Gore?)

The reasons often tend to be financial in nature. A stricter rating for a movie results in a smaller audience base - which is bad news for box office performance. Studios routinely protect themselves by contracting a director to deliver a certain rating. No studio in its right mind, for example, will fund a Summer Tentpole without a specification for the movie to come in at PG-13. (Director Antoine Fuqua once famously went to town over Disney forcing him to tone down King Arthur)

So understandably directors get frustrated with the boards when they have to chop up their babies in order to meet the suits halfway. The more experiences (or smarter) ones will shoot multiple scenes knowing fully well which ones they are willing to bargain out with the board. So its not unusual to shoot a breast, a side view of a nipple under a sheet and an open back with a bit of a butt cheek showing. Armed with options like these, filmmakers can bargain their movie with the board. It doesn't always work - you have to be influential and charming. But if you are directing a movie, getting stuff out of people is your special skill to begin with.

Censorship rules also have a certain wierdness associated with them. Straight sex and gay sex, for example, don't get the same moral treatment from the board. And violence and sex don't get the same treatment either under the somewhat lame pretext that early exposure to violence for kids results in a certain understanding of what is real and what is not.

So this brings us to Indian movies: I confess I only watch a small selection. And since all of them are released Unrated in the US, I have even less information about their ratings.

For some cultural reason that I don't have the ability to perceive or analyze: Indians play it much looser when it comes to violence and adult themes. As a kid I saw rape, thuggery, dismemberment and torture. And that was all in my first film! Did it affect me? I'm sure it did yet I haven't exactly done any of those things in my life. Well maybe except thuggery if you count hitting Bhinda in the nuts once for announcing my date's arrival with "your maal is here".

This is purely a cultural phenomenon. The US ratings don't prevent kids from walking into any movie (except NC-17 which is rare). If accompanied by an adult, a 3 year old could watch an R movie. The board states its opinion on a movie's content with a rating. Its entirely up to a parent or guardian to enforce it. So in effect, think of all Indian movies as R and the parents making an executive decision about taking their kids along.

So back to Indian ratings: as filmmakers explore the urban market increasingly and as the core audiences' soch-vichaar change with time (or as some call it: globalization), a good Censor Board will keep pace with the times and amend its views on what's appropriate and what is not. To a large extent that has happened. Emraan Hashmi wouldn't have a career otherwise.

But if unwanted pregnancy is a problem and Family Planning is an issue of national significance, perhaps discouraging the use of condoms might be an out of touch kind of thing to do. Censors, aur mehnat karo!


Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to Hello - Salman is looking awesome and so are all the others. Check out this special video -

Anonymous said...

I don't understand this at all.


How did Masti get through?

How did Khwaish get through. (It was on AVS and I saw a part of it. I caught where she said, "God, I'm so horny" and I turned it off.)

There was one movie, maybe it was Masti or Khwaish. Where they they made water ballons, or just plain balloons out of condoms. How did that get through?

How does mindless T**s and A$$ get through. And I mean, T&A just for the sake of it where it makes no sense in the plot of setting.

God, I hate the Indian censor board.
And I'm not going into the violence part, because just comparing how some sexual stuff get through and others don't in the same category, is proof enough (for me) of the joke that the censor board is.

I think if you have clout, it will go through. If not, they will exercise their right to censor.

It shouldn't be comprised of film people. Sharmila Tagore, A. Kher, they all have double standards.

Anonymous said...

I also think now in India there are two kinds of audience - the metro audience and the old style theatre audience. The censor board should keep that in mind when handing out certs. So a kissing scene say in a film like Hello should be treated differently than a kissing scene in Gadar.

Also I think Indian sentimentality is similar to americans and different from Europeans. We are totally ok with our kids watching violence than we are with them watching sex.

Anonymous said...

there was a Sharmila Tagore and Nagesh Kukunoor interview on zoom recently.pretty much similar to what u've written.coudn't find the video anywhere.check it out if u can find it.It was interesting.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

How did Boom get through?

Anonymous said...

Boom - Konnections
Had much more than Kiss
Remember Jacki Shroff passing Napkins Under the table to Girls !

Anonymous said...

middle finger or not i think the movie was really was awesome and salman acted too well....go watch it trust me.....

Unknown said...

j, good point. In fact, movies targetted to kids always get different treatment. Which is ok because it is always going to be an imperfect art. All the censors need to take care of are decisions which are screamers.

Unknown said...

And one more thing: it would help if they explain things clearly when making a decision. If not to the audience, then to the filmmakers.

Anonymous said...

Did the censor board really asked to bleep the "C" word? Wow, so what about the ads running on Indian TV about bindaas bol and they have even publicizing this