Are Censors hampering the market for Hollywood films in India?

James Bond's latest outing faced the Indian Censor Board's snip. Will the decision hamper the market for international films in India?

Several Bollywood filmmakers have faced a tough time dealing with the objection raised over content in films by The Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Be it inserting anti-smoking advertisements in film, chopping intimate scenes or removing a few words or dialogues, the CBFC’s actions have raised many eyebrows time and again with their decisions. The latest film that has come under the Censor Board’s scanner is the new James Bond franchise, 'Spectre'. The makers of the film had to cut short the length of a kissing scene and remove a few words like ba**s and as****e, in order to get a U/A certificate for the film.

The Board does not want any bikini scenes in Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana
The Board does not want any bikini scenes in 'Colombiana', starring Zoe Saldana

In the past
In 2013, renowned filmmaker Woody Allen, too, had a tough time dealing with the Censor Board. Woody was asked to include an anti-smoking advertisement in his film, 'Blue Jasmine'. The filmmaker had refused and his film did not release in India. It was a loss for exhibitors and distributors in India. However, the James Bond team had to oblige as they apparently didn’t have the time to approach the Revising Committee of the CBFC.

“I personally do not endorse the idea of whatever the makers of 'Spectre' had been asked to edit or remove. I am a member of the revising committee and the examining committee has taken the decision. The makers could have approached the revising committee to seek help, but they didn’t. I think the entire Censor Board should not be blamed. There are people in the system who do not understand cinema and are implementing stupid rules and because of them, the entire body is being blamed,” says Nandini Sardesai of the CBFC, adding, “I have requested filmmakers to approach the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to discuss their grievances and bring a change in the way the Censor Board works today.”

Knock Knock, directed by Eli Roth, released in the US in October, but  is stuck with the Censor Board in India
'Knock Knock', directed by Eli Roth, released in the US in October, but is stuck with the Censor Board in India

Another film stuck
'Spectre' is not the only film that’s faced censor trouble in the recent past. 'Knock Knock', directed by Eli Roth, had released in the USA in October, but is still stuck with the Censor Board. “I had edited out a few nudity scenes to get a certificate from the Censor Board. But, the examining committee had problems with a few scenes. So, I went to the revising committee and it cleared my film without any cuts. However, I am yet to receive a certificate for the film. Its release has been pushed by two months. I am hoping to get a certificate at the earliest and planning to release the film in January 2016. But, the pirated version of the film is already available online,” says Manish Dutt, who has the rights to distribute Knock Knock in India.

Dutt has invested $2,000 to distribute the film in India and has suffered a huge loss. In fact, he had also faced problems with the makers of the film, Knock Knock. “The makers are unhappy as I edited out a few nude scenes. They did not want the film’s creativity to be affected. But what do I do when the Censor Board here reacts so differently from what they expect? I had invested $2,000 and want to recover the amount. I had no choice,” explains Dutt.

Loss for audience
In the whole conflict, it’s Indian audiences that will be affected. The viewers might just be restricted from viewing global cinemas in the big screen. “International filmmakers are very particular about whatever is there in the film and are against any force which affects their creativity. In the past, filmmakers have not released their films in India. And if the Censor Board’s approach remains the same, there is a possibility of more films not being released here. The audiences will not get to experience movies in the big screen,” says film exhibitor, Akshaye Rathi.

Interestingly, it will also lead to a growing market for piracy. “In this day and age of digitalisation, if people want to watch a movie and if it is not releasing in theatres, they will download the pirated version. This will not help anyone. There should be a change in the system to avoid such a thing,” adds Rathi.

Stephanie Sigman and Daniel Craig in Spectre which faced censor issues
Stephanie Sigman and Daniel Craig in 'Spectre' which faced censor issues

A dying market?
While it is believed that international filmmakers do not encourage any kind of censorship that affects a film’s creative appeal, people in the trade fear that the growing market for international films in India might just take a beating. “Hollywood filmmakers will not oblige any kind of censorship which they would believe unnecessary. They will not release films in India if it continues. It will become extremely difficult for distributors to function in such a market,” says Dutt.

However, it has been a growing market so far. “Many Hollywood films have done extremely well in India. There is a lot of audience for international movies and it will only increase. But, Censor Board troubles can affect the growing market. International filmmakers will not mind not releasing films in India because it’s not the biggest market, but it will be a huge loss for us,” says Rathi.

Against censorship
Filmmakers in Bollywood, too, believe that the Censor Board’s approach will affect creativity and market for films in India. However, it seems that there isn’t much that can be done. “The I&B Ministry is not ready to have a dialogue. We have approached them to discuss our concerns over Censor Board issues, but the ministry has not responded,” says film producer Mukesh Bhatt.

Expressing his grievances over the Censor Board’s decisions, Bhatt says, “India is a miniscule market and if they (international filmmakers) feel that there creative space is getting destroyed in the country which is not growing with the changing times, they won’t release films here. Renowned filmmakers from across the globe who have certain respectability for the content that they make will not get into discussion with the authorities here. If a kiss is not pornography and not a threat to national security, then why is the Censor Board cutting it? While this country talks about being progressive, its actions are regressive.”

Another independent filmmaker Onir also echoes Bhatt’s sentiments . “We have seen kissing scenes even in Bollywood films. But, the issues that the examining committee raises are not acceptable. It’s depriving the audience of a complete experience of watching a film and deters filmmakers to release films in India.”

Talking about the losses that the Indian market is facing because of Censor Board issues, Jiten Hemdev, president, Foreign Film Chamber of India, says, “When our audiences know that the Censor Board here has cut out a few scenes, they do not watch the film in theatres. They instead opt for a no-cut online and it is easily available since it hasn’t been edited abroad. We suffer huge losses because of it.” Hemdev himself has faced a censorship problem recently. “A few days ago, I had gone to the Censor Board to get a U/A certificate for the film, Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana. I am distributing the film in the South. But, the censor folk asked me to remove a scene that shows an actress in a bikini. I am surprised.”

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