Scene one: The Big Bang Theory. Howard and Bernadette are to get married, with Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Raj and Amy in attendance
Sheldon (to Leonard): Don’t you feel weird standing here, considering you proposed to Penny and she refused? (Everybody questions the duo)
Raj: Did he go down on one knee?
Leonard: Knock it off. It was an incomplete proposal anyway.
Bernadette: Why was it an incomplete proposal?
Sheldon: He popped it during c*****!
Didn’t catch that last word? It’s ‘coitus’, prissy Sheldon Cooper’s word to describe sex. Of course, even if he had used the word ‘sex’, the channel would have bleeped it out.
Scene two: Grey’s Anatomy.
Dr Meredith Grey is in the middle of a medical check-up
Meredith (to Miranda Bailey): I think she may have b***** cancer.
The patient has breast cancer. But the word ‘breast’ is bleeped out as if it were a bad word, even in the medical world. And this is for a show popular in India, where we illuminate national monuments in pink to generate awareness for breast cancer.
Scene three: On the law show Suits. Harvey Specter and his associate Mike Ross are in Specter’s office. Harvey asks Mike why he couldn’t get an out-of-court settlement.
Mike: Hey! I try all things, I achieve what I can.
Harvey: Did you just quote Moby D**k?
Even mention of Moby Dick, one of the greatest American novels (with no connection to the pejorative term for the male anatomy), is a no-no for Indian TV.
What’s making English general entertainment channels black out perfectly acceptable words in shows that have been created for general viewing? Some channels bleeped out their own opinion on the matter. Comedy Central and Zee Cafe refused to answer our questions, pleading the sensitive nature of censorship (in effect saying that even discussing what they think should not be talked about, is wrong). Of the channels that did respond to our queries, they had this to say:
Kevin Vaz, business head, English channels for STAR Jalsha and Jalsha Movies at STAR India: "Most Indian households have single television sets and families end up watching TV together – hence while airing edgy content, broadcasters have to walk the fine line of attracting young viewers while still not disturbing the older ones. Younger audiences demand risqué and edgier shows but broadcasters cannot risk offending the conservative viewers or the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting."
Arpit Mankar, AXN Programming Head: "You don’t want your bhabhi to be viewing something derogatory on television. Having said that, since the youth wants more evolved content, it would help if there were separate guidelines for English content". Mankar explains the decision to bleep out the word ‘beef’: "It depends on what you stand to gain or lose in airing the word. If it doesn’t change the context, it doesn’t matter."
Saurabh Yagnik, executive vice president and business head, Sony PIX: "Content that comes from Hollywood, though more "global", largely caters to the culture and beliefs relevant to that society. Hence it becomes a responsibility of both – the content creators and broadcasters – to choose as well as adapt/ edit content to make it culturally relevant."
Touch me not
The extreme caution adopted by channels goes to show the kind of hold the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry have over them.
The Indian Broadcasting Federation makes it mandatory for channels to run a BCCC ticker before a show or movie so audiences can report inappropriate content. These complaints are then forwarded to the I&B ministry which can respond by levying heavy fines on channels or simply banning them. Comedy Central, for instance, was banned for 10 days earlier this year for imagery of a man engaged in lewd acts with a female doll. That content may have been offensive to women. But what of beef, cock (when referring to the male fowl), breast, and poor Moby Dick?
The ministry says that this is not their doing. "We have never asked channels to beep these words," said an official who did not want to be named. "Channels should not take things out of context, they ought to have some common sense."
How bold are we?
But an official from the BCCC who also wished to remain anonymous says they receive requests of an entirely different sort from their viewers. "Quite often, we receive complaints from the youth that content needs to be bold," he said. "But channels are scared of the law and are thus extra cautious. I agree that we must show all kinds of content on television, but we’re a heavily political and parliamentary country. You cannot do anything about that."
So, never mind nudity, profanity or aggressive violence. Today’s TV will filter out anything that anyone anywhere decides to deem unfit for the rest of India. In a world where every complaint is seen as valid and nobody wants to be banned, every word on every show is subject to scrutiny.
You miss punchlines and plot twists that weren’t even designed to offend. And Moby Dick will sadly start to seem dirty.
Some commonly bleeped-out words
Ass, Bang, Beef, Bitch
Breast, Cocaine/ Coke, Cock
Crap, Damn, Dick, Gay/ Lesbian/ Homosexual, Horny
Nipple, Sex, Shit, Underwear
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From HT Brunch, October 6
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