Ever seen films with item songs, stalking heroes and cryptic ‘non-veg’ jokes? Of course, we have. What about open homosexuality or even just condoms? Probably not.
If you’re now wondering why, it’s because of all the selective censorship that happens in Indian T.V. and cinema, something that has intensified in the last few years. The true intention of censorship in India was to put a blanket on content that threatened the unity or security of our country. But we’ve come a long way from that today. Now, censorship extends to censoring cuss words, nudity, religious incitement, violence and ridiculous things like the out-of-context censoring of the word ‘sex’ with ‘gender’.
So here’s the problem, T.V. and cinema are, for a lot of Indians, the only way to expose themselves to the outside world. It’s their way of understanding and making sense of a world that they can’t always experience firsthand. This is why over-censorship often leads to an uninformed populace.
Here’s a list of things you’re not being exposed to thanks to censorship in Indian T.V. and cinema.
1. Sexual Identity
The scheduled telecast of the Hollywood film ‘The Danish Girl’ was canceled by the CBFC board because the content, a man going through a sex change operation to become a woman, was too ‘controversial’ and ‘unsuitable’ to be viewed by children. While this was eventually reversed by FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal), the fact that a film like this could possibly be censored spoke volumes. On similar lines, the word ‘lesbian’ was muted in the film ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ and Hansal Mehta’s ‘Aligarh’ as rated adult only because of the film’s premise – the unfair prosecution of a gay man – and mention of the word ‘homosexuality’.
If Indians are not exposed to the concept of homosexuality as a variant in sexual orientation, Indian heterosexuals will have trouble with seeing Indian homosexuals as normal people. God knows LGBTQ Indians have enough prejudice to deal with (Read: Section 377), without being completely ostracised in the media too.
This censoring could result in a conflict in homosexuals acknowledging their identities, disclosing their orientation and coping with society. Compared to the world, India has a severe dearth of psychiatrists who take on sexuality for research. These psychiatrists also abscond from entertaining patients with issues related to coming out of the closet. If we saw this topic being discussed on T.V., we might be more open to discussing it IRL as well as accepting and empathizing with different sexual identifications.
2. Sex Education
Censorship boards over the years have made the word ‘sex’ a taboo in our country and anything to do with sexual desires ‘unsuitable’ for us to watch. ‘Jab Harry met Sejal’ ran into trouble for using the word ‘intercourse’ in its trailer. Ex-Chairman of CBFC, Pahlaj Nihalani asked for public votes from Indian families to ask if they wanted their 12-year-olds to understand the meaning of the word, saying that he would pass the film if he got an affirmative response.
If the use of words like penis or vagina is strictly prohibited in the mainstream media, they become ‘shame words’, and these very natural parts of your body become ‘shame parts’. It’s this sort of regressive thinking that keeps people from accepting themselves and their desires and in extreme cases; this could lead to violent sex crimes. Similarly, if you don’t hear the word ‘condom’ on TV, chances are, you won’t ask about it, you won’t think it’s important and you probably won’t care about using one.
Plus, promptly passing films like Kya Kool Hai Hum, Raanjhana, R Rajkumar, Mastizaade, Grand Masti, etc., that promote stalking and sexualising and objectifying women, is not helping the situation.
3. Women’s Liberation
In most Bollywood movies, women are either used as props in family films or objectified in raunchy comedies. Item songs like Munni Badnaam Hui, Sheila Ki Jawaani, Fevicol, etc. portray women as sexual objects, and they’re not even subtle about it.
On the flipside, Alankrita Shrivastava’s ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ was refused a certificate and banned from release in cinemas. The reason the CBFC gave was that the film was too ‘lady oriented’ with ‘a fantasy above life’ – the movie is about 4 women exploring their sexuality – that contains audio pornography (translation=phone sex) and sex scenes. So according to the Censor Board, a heterosexual woman trying to explore her sexuality is also a complete no-no. And that’s not the only ‘lady-oriented’ problem we have. Women in T.V and film don’t even have the freedom to dress how they want to. A lot of Indian T.V. series portray the good bahus clad in sanskari sarees and betis in kurtas. It’s always the villainous characters who wear too much makeup and slightly more revealing clothes. This feeds into our subconscious mind and gives our whole society dangerous misconceived notions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ girls that often lead to extremes like victim-blaming and slut-shaming urban rape or molestation cases.
4. Cultural Exposure
Literature and performing arts, since time immemorial, have been the top mediums to showcase different cultures. Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are like a plateful of international content without any cuts or beeps.
However, not everyone in the country has access to these platforms. Most people just have good ol’ cable and cinema. Unfortunately for this majority, censorship decisions in India are made by a group of people that are trying to protect Indian culture.
While creative artists are restricted from freedom of expression, banning movies that showcase relevant issues keeps the public in the dark. Films like Udta Punjab, Black Friday, Bandit Queen, with sensitive off-mainstream subjects are being censored. Today, people are being fed the same kind of films, non-inciting and watered down versions of actual issues. This prevents healthy discussions on subjects that are new, unconventional and important to modern society.
The youth might not be very keen on consuming hard news but a film like Udta Punjab, in its own way, made the youth aware of the drug problem in Punjab. After watching the film a local, non-governmental youth organisation tried to trace back the origin of the drug in order to combat it. Shouldn’t this be a motivation enough to release more such films?
But, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. In 2016, following widespread criticism of CBFC, the Government appointed a panel led by renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal.
The panel proposed a reconstruction of the ‘Cinematography Act and Rules’, under which films are categorised according to the type of content (U, U/A, A and so on). The panel has suggested that more categories be added for films with explicit sexual content. The CBFC has given a tentative nod to this, but nothing has been finalised. If all goes well, we will have additional categories of U/A+12, U/A+15 and ‘Adult With Caution’ (A/C).
Maybe this will mean more exposure for the Indian audience?