Lindsay Pereira Column: Serial offenders

There's plenty the censor board finds 'offensive, but stupidity on-screen, it turns out, is fine

Lindsay PereiraA show called Sasural Simar Ka, on a popular television channel called Colors (presumably spelled that way to impress the seven Americans who tune in every week) recently teased viewers with the following description of an episode: ‘Tonight, we will see Roli return after taking the spoon from Simar. But she bumps into Jhanvi and the spoon falls into muck. Will Jhanvi notice the spoon? [sic]

I don’t know who the unfortunate women playing Roli, Simar and Jhanvi are, but I hope they’re well paid so they can afford fine alcohol to help them forget what they do for a living. I worry about other women on television too, like Pragya and Bulbul on Kumkum Bhagya — a show about a Punjabi matriarch who runs a marriage hall and hopes to see her daughters happily married. That’s all she wants out of life: husbands for her daughters.

No licence to thrill: The censor board’s decision to cut kissing scenes in Spectre by 50% was trolled with the Twitter hashtag #SanskariJamesBond
No licence to thrill: The censor board’s decision to cut kissing scenes in Spectre by 50% was trolled with the Twitter hashtag #SanskariJamesBond

What these shows prove is that signs of intelligence are not mandatory for approval by the honourable Central Board of Film Certification. Stupidity doesn’t offend the Board. Films and television shows that reduce women to chattel are fine. Programmes that revel in blatant sexism and the propagation of stereotypes are perfectly okay. What is offensive are words like ‘adivasi’, ‘sarkar’ and any reference to human anatomy.

Here are some of the things you won’t find mentioned on television in India, assuming you’re stupid enough to tune in to begin with. The word ‘hell’, for instance, is sometimes substituted with ‘inferno’ in the subtitles, for reasons known only to the man or woman who made the switch. ‘Crazy bitch’ becomes ‘crazy harlot,’ presumably because it’s okay to be called a prostitute. One episode of the popular sitcom Friends — and proof of this exists online, if you think I made it up — actually had a character refer to ‘chestfeeding’, to protect Indian men and women from seeing the word ‘breast’ splash across their screens. And all of these changes were reportedly made by the channels themselves, to avoid offending the Board.

What exactly is the Board’s role anyway? It is supposed to simply issue certificates in accordance with the Cinematograph Act of 1952, and the Cinematograph (certification) Rules of 1983. What it continues to do in 2015, however, is arbitrarily decide what can and cannot be shown to the people of India. Earlier this week, for instance, it demanded 16 cuts in Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses, a film that had played without any cuts at respected festivals around the world, to audiences who appreciated it. It didn’t matter whether or not the film was good though, because the Board didn’t like images of Hindu goddesses or the use of words like ‘Indian figure’.

In February this year, the CBFC chairman allegedly sent the Producers’ Association and Regional Officers a list of words that couldn’t be used in films. There were English cuss words and their Hindi counterparts, naturally, because no one in our country has ever abused anyone since the year 23 BC, but also on the list were the following: ‘maarna’, ‘lena’, ‘dena’, ‘bajana’, ‘phatna’, ‘screw’, and ‘bastard’. Also, words that showcase “violence against women’ and “double meaning kind of words,” with no specific examples. If this column were to be read aloud for television, no one would be allowed to see it.

Let me put this into perspective: A bunch of men and women we don’t know, use a law that came into force before most of our parents were born, to decide what you and I can watch today. Going by their ham-fisted approach, we obviously don’t know what breasts are, what an orgy means, or what men and women who are physically attracted to each other end up doing. The millions of children who pop out each year in our overpopulated country obviously do so by magic.

Over the past decade alone, we have been prevented from watching films that deal with nuclear testing (War and Peace), transsexuals (The Pink Mirror), rioting (Final Solution), nudity (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and, of course, kissing (Spectre). This has all been done presumably because Indians never engage in rioting, pornography isn’t freely available on smartphones, and we don’t know what sex is.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore had something very interesting to say about censorship a couple of days ago. He tweeted: ‘When they gave Bowling for Columbine an ‘R’, they didn’t want “teens to see images of school shootings.” 13 years later, that’s worked out well.’ We have been warned.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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