Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Cutting questions”

Posted on August 22, 2014


So we know now the censor board is corrupt. But how necessary is it in the first place?

About the recent fuss around the censor board chief caught taking bribes, I have just this to add: I am not surprised. This was bound to happen. Over the years, censorship has become some sort of minor annoyance, something that has to be done or else your film won’t get released. It’s like making prints or booking theatres or putting up posters and banners. It’s just another bit of logistics in the long chain of events leading to a film’s release – and it’s an utterly unimportant step. Once the censor certificate is obtained, no one cares about it. Filmmakers don’t care to showcase the rating in any meaningful way. Theatres don’t take care to implement this rating. And we don’t seem to care whether our children end up seeing films they shouldn’t be seeing.

So who, really, is being benefited through this rating? At least in Tamil Nadu, there seems to be some sort of financial gain from obtaining a “U” certificate, some sort of tax exemption. But elsewhere? The system is broken because the people on the censor panels are often people who have no real relationship to films except as viewers. They seem to be unable to differentiate, among other things, between implied and overt sexuality, between psychological and physical violence. The minute there’s a lovemaking scene, the censors get uncomfortable and reach for a more adult rating, but they routinely let pass dance sequences where the suggestive, rain-soaked choreography is pretty much like lovemaking, except the participants have a bare minimum of clothes on. And let’s not even get to the bleeping out of “offensive” words, with scant regard to context.

Someone who wants to bypass this system can easily do it. Many skilled dialogue writers and lyricists have gotten away with double-meaning lines or lyrics that seem to have flown over the heads of the censor committee. And we’ve all heard of filmmakers who include a lot more blood and gore (or swear words, or sexual content) in the print they submit to the censors. The censors cut a bit of all this and feel they’ve done their job. The filmmaker comes away smiling because he still has the adult content he wants. And now, with the Internet, this sort of censoring is even more suspect. At least in earlier days, you could justify these cuts saying that you are protecting young viewers (or whatever), but now, when the most hard-core material is just a mouse click away, what is really being achieved? I am not saying that censorship is unimportant or unnecessary. I’m saying that we need to have a long, hard look at what it aims to do and whether these aims are being achieved.

Instead of focusing only on censorship, do we need a campaign to target parents and tell them that this ratings thing is a serious business and they have to be careful about what they expose their kids to? Let’s consider violence. When I was in school, I routinely watched action sequences, but the action choreography then was just a bunch of karate or kung fu moves – what used to be called dishoom-dishoom – and no one took any of it seriously. Even the blood looked fake. It looked like the red paint it was. So there was no question of being traumatised or becoming immune to violence – because it was all so clearly make-believe. But now, stunt choreographers take more trouble to ensure that the fights look real, the blood looks real. Is it okay, then, for kids to watch the endless shootouts in Singham Returns or the scenes in Anjaan where one bad guy is shot in the forehead and another one’s head is smashed in by a rock?

Perhaps the best kind of censorship is no censorship at all. I realise this sounds extreme, but when little children on TV end up doing the kind of dance moves that were once the prerogative of cabaret dancers in the movies (and with proud parents approving), and – of course – with the Internet all around us, do we really need a panel to decide what’s good for us and what isn’t? How many parents ask their children to change the channel when one of those lewd Govinda-Karisma Kapoor dances come on? Without censorship, at least the adult-skewing foreign films would come to us intact, without being butchered because, say, a demure housewife on the panel couldn’t handle Quentin Tarantino’s brand of violence. This, to my mind, is a worse crime than taking bribes.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2014 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.