CURRENT ISSUE AUGUST 5, 2002  

COVER STORY: INDIAN CINEMA

Is Sex OK?


By Kaveree Bamzai and Sandeep Unnithan

MORAL POLICE: In Raaz (2002), apart from some nude scenes being cut, Malini Sharma's diatribe, "I'm not a woman you can f**k and forget," is translated into Hindi with the expletive censored

"If, in telling the story it is logical, relevant or necessary to depict a passionate kiss or a nude human figure, there should be no question of excluding the shot."

No. That's not Vijay Anand, who resigned last week as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) when the Information and Broadcasting Ministry recoiled in Victorian horror at his suggestion to legalise exhibition of soft pornographic films. It is chief justice G.D. Khosla in an I&B Ministry commissioned report on film censorship as far back as 1968. Justice Khosla's recommendation was enough to cause an uproar in Parliament, induce All India Radio to commission a survey which showed 75 per cent did not endorse the statement, and provoke Life magazine into devoting a rare cover to India, entitled "India's Kissing Crisis".

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Interview: Vijay Anand
The Origin of Sin

Over three decades later, Anand's suggestion had almost as much impact, showing how thin our cultural skin still is. Embarrassed by all of five questions in Parliament, the I&B Ministry wrote a stiff note to Anand, saying the six-member committee he had appointed need not "examine the stray suggestion". Anand responded by quitting: "They've given too much importance to one suggestion, ignoring all our other work and treating us like stray dogs." (see interview)

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CONTENTIOUS PROPOSALS

Under Vijay Anand, the CBFC planned to present the Government with a radical revamp

« No more censoring of films. Instead give ratings like U, U/A and A and enforce them strictly.
« Have an M/A or a matured adult category for sexually explicit films to be shown in special theatres.
« Free the CBFC from the clutches of the I&B Ministry. Guarantee fiscal autonomy also.
« Ensure half the board members are between ages of 20 and 30 as 75 per cent of audience are youth.
« Films shown on TV should also be brought under the ambit of the board to end dual standards.

If his suggestions had been accepted, they would have changed forever our hours in the dark, giving the cinemagoer the mental equivalent of a TV remote. By allowing the filmmaker ratings rather than cuts, he would forever have freed him of what director Mahesh Bhatt, in typical grandiloquent style, calls the CBFC's invisible shadow. "It dogs us at every step, from writing to production," he says.

So when tough police officer Bipasha Basu interrogates Dino Morea in Bhatt's soon-to-be-released Gunaah with street speak, "Tum log kya policewalon ko chootiya samajhte ho (crudely translated as, 'do you take the police for fools')?", Bhatt can expect raised CBFC eyebrows. So can Mahesh Manjrekar, whose forthcoming films, Praan Jayee Par Shaan Na Jaaye and Hathyar, are set in chawls and feature Mumbaiya slang.

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WHAT IS CBFC

« The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) appointed by the I&B Ministry certifies films for theatrical release.
« The film is first seen by the examining committee comprising four members. It recommends cuts and issues certificate.
« If the filmmaker is unhappy with the decision of the examining committee, he or she can go before the revising committee, which comprises eight members.
« If even that does not suffice, the filmmaker can go to the appellate tribunal, the highest court of appeal, before he or she approaches the courts. The tribunal comprises a retired high court judge whose decision is usually final.

A song here, a scene there, a beep in the middle of a dramatic monologue-just about every filmmaker in the industry winces as he recounts his encounters with the CBFC. Some for the most hilarious reasons-like in the Govinda-Sanjay Dutt comedy Jodi No. 1 a Kingfisher beer hoarding was knocked off because "guidelines don't permit alcohol ads". Or Gulzar's Hu Tu Tu, where a scene featuring Tabu lighting Sunil Shetty's cigarette was cut. Why? Because it promoted smoking. Or more recently, Mahesh Bhatt's production Raaz, where spurned lover Malini Sharma's dialogue, "I'm not a woman you can f**k and forget", had to be replaced by a Hindi translation.

When Mira Nair calls it a crap shoot, one is inclined to agree. "You never know what the CBFC criteria are," she says wearily. No, she's not quoting her favourite example-of her 1997 run-in with the CBFC over Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, which cost her $60,000 to re-cut, but her recent Monsoon Wedding (2001).

WET BLANKET: In Jagmohan Mundhra's Monsoon (1995), the CBFC deleted this visual of Helen Brodie cavorting in a sari without a blouse (above); the BC expletive was blipped out of this steamy car scene in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001) but remained in a dozen other places

It's the perfect example of how the CBFC operates. Delhi policemen chance upon a vehicle in which lovers Vasundhara Das and Sameer Arya are having a steamy rendezvous. A policemen taps on the window. "Kya kar raha hai behanc**d (what are you upto, you sister f****r)?" Chances are you didn't hear this. Nair reshot the sequence, and on the advice of the CBFC, substituted the expletive with the milder haramzada (bastard). That too wasn't good enough for the CBFC. The entire line had to go.

Arbitrary behaviour from the CBFC isn't limited to sex and profanity. It can extend to depiction even of contemporary events. Take Mani Shankar's techno-thriller 16 December which was released earlier this year. In one scene, renegade ISI general Gulshan Grover exhorts his terrorists: "Remember, we are doing it for the jehad; for the jehad, no sacrifice is too great."

The CBFC objected to the word jehad and asked for eight references to be beeped out. Says the director: "My film dealt with clear and present dangers. I found it strange that when the prime minister and the home minister can speak so openly about jehad, as a filmmaker, I am prevented from doing so."

"World over, governments are fighting against pornography."
Sushma Swaraj, Information and Broadcasting Minister

"The CBFC is an incongruity in a modern democracy."
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, noted Malayalam director of Swayamvaram

It's a lose-lose situation that Anurag Kashyap, writer of Ram Gopal Varma's gritty Satya, understands. Having spent most of last year fighting to have his directorial debut Paanch cleared by the CBFC, Kashyap is now readying his film for release, nearly two years after he started shooting. The C-words have all been beeped out and the film watered down with minor cuts. Kashyap debates what was worse, having his film banned by the CBFC or releasing a hacked version. "It's a bitter lesson for me," he says.

As the man who gave us Rosie, one of the first truly liberated women in Indian cinema (she had an extra-marital affair) in the classic Guide (1965), Anand clearly thought it was time to devise a new course. Refreshingly, he thought the exhortation of the Cinematograph Act 1952 that the "motion picture must serve the common good" was "utter nonsense".

Sadly, even as he was arguing that the CBFC and the government, which controls its appointments and finances, should grow up, I&B Minister Sushma Swaraj was pointing to how "any amendment in the Cinematograph Act 1952 which becomes an offence under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code cannot be considered".

It's this fealty to the letter of the law that makes most of the country's leading filmmakers turn technicolor with rage. Varma, maker of movies that have pushed the envelope with shocking visuals and stark language, believes ratings are meant to control quality-they should be used to warn an audience of the content of the films. Viewers should decide if they want to watch them.

Even the gentle Adoor Gopalakrishnan, by no means a votary of porn movies, believes there is no reason why cinema should be singled out for stringent control in the age of complete freedom for print, satellite TV and the Internet. "Why can't the authorities trust filmmakers as they do other media?"

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