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Whimsical censure

The Central Board of Film Certification (CFBC) of India has a nagging habit of opposing anything that is even slightly off from what they perceive as the mark. Gautam Chintamani writes...

brunch Updated: May 04, 2012 10:48 IST
Gautam Chintamani

The Central Board of Film Certification (CFBC) of India has a nagging habit of opposing anything that is even slightly off from what they perceive as the mark. They will not pass a film on grounds you'd never imagine but they also have a history of giving into intelligent reason. But you see their definition of intelligent much like their definition of normal or regular is limited.

Film censorship in India has always been debatable. While on the one hand people who form the body have stopped films like The Bandit Queen (1994) and Black Friday (2004) from being released, they had no trouble in clearing films that would violate the broadest minds. Based on books inspired by real events films like The Bandit Queen and Black Friday were penalized for depicting life as it happened while a film like Paanch, based on the infamous Auto Shankar incident from Pune was victimized for it was seemingly insidious. If there are books based on events and newspapers or television news debates go on and on about something why is that a film based on the same thing is considered more dangerous?

Since the 1960s till the mid 1980s Raj Kapoor got away with just about anything in the name of art when it came to the Censor board. While other filmmakers who weren't as charming as the great showman reasoned with the members of the CBFC, Kapoor freely showed scantily clad women under waterfalls every time he felt the creative urge. His argument was very simple and extremely effective. If the Censors told him something was bad with Mandakini in a transparent white sari bathing under a waterfall, he would simply say his vision is pure and it's one's own mind that is dirty. This reasoning always seemed to work for him right from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960) to Sangam (1964), to Mera Naam Joker (1970) to Bobby (1973) to Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) and ultimately Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985). That's not as shocking as the fact that the same body would oppose an actress playing Mandakini in that famous scene in a film based on say the life of Raj Kapoor or Dawood Ebrahim.

The CBFC specializes in selective listening. Words coming out of a Raj Kapoor's mouth are considered to be more reasonable from anyone else. In 2002 when the then CFBC chairperson Vijay Anand suggested it was time India had an X-rated category no one knew what had hit them. One of the sharpest minds to ever make films, Anand merely suggested a way of better control on things that were out there- porn films were being screened on the sly and this would just categorize them better. There was a ruckus in the Parliament and Anand decided to resign rather than be a rubber stamp.

The Censor has hit the breaks on the Indian release of The Cabin in the Woods on the grounds that it's too violent. What else were they expecting from a genre film? And if some horror film about zombies or freaks slashing people is violent then many Hindi films where vendetta forces men to do horrible things is as violent, is it not? It's unfortunate that in this day and age our censor board can actually suggest that homosexuality doesn't exist in our society hence a film dealing with that subject is unfit for public consumption. Sometimes I wonder which parallel universe do the members of such government bodies live in? What is about the CBFC that normal people end up talking like lab rats that are being experimented upon? In some cases even after the board clears a film some individual or a political party or the courts overrule the decision. It makes you wonder just how relevant the body really is.

Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

From HT Brunch, March 18

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