‘I hope you have a beep. We just can’t have beep unless you have a beep.’
Watching TV has become a hilariously frustrating guessing game these days. I am not talking about the saas-bahu variety; that’s as predictable as the behaviour of Sanghi trolls online.
This is about simple words being censored in foreign TV shows and even modern-day Bollywood movies. These include ‘bra’, ‘underwear’, ‘ass’, ‘needle’, ‘suck’ and even ‘sheets’. The list is endless, and goes much beyond the F-word, though I am still to find someone who doesn’t know that U, C and K follow the F in this case.
And it’s not limited to the oral. “I had watched ‘Queen’ on DVD and the bathroom scene at the bar where she finds bras were censored... What message do they want to convey... that Indian women don’t need bras? Is it socially acceptable to rape a woman with a pixelated bra?” says a user on social media site reddit.com.
It is routine to have beach scenes that have scores of women walking around with blurred pixels on their chests. They are not naked, but that’s what the cleavage-blurring censors would have you think.
I have a favourite example: In the cartoon show ‘Courage, The Cowardly Dog’, the dubbed version earlier had a dialogue that said, “Bewkoof kutte, tune mujhe cartoon bana diya.” New dialogue: “Bewkoof doggy, tune mujhe cartoon bana diya”. In English, both would translate into ‘Stupid dog, you turned me into a cartoon’, except the slight ‘kutte/doggy’ difference. By that logic, what would Dharmendra say? ‘Doggy, main tera khoon pee jaaunga’ (Doggy, I will drink your blood)?
If that wasn’t hilarious enough, imagine watching a show like ‘Two and a Half Men’, about a man who has several girlfriends who tell him that he need not take his beep off for them to enjoy beep. It’s not kinky. The women are advocating the use of condoms during casual sex. What’s so offensive about condoms in a country that has way too many people?
Even the subtitles are changed to back up the beeps. The phrase ‘Let’s have beep’will have a subtitle that says ‘Let’s have intercourse’ or the more romantic ‘Let’s make love’.
Sometimes there is no beep, but the allegedly offending word is replaced in the subtitles: Say, when the character Chandler in the comedy series ‘Friends’ defines a medical condition about a third nipple, the subtitles say he has a third ******. Hilarity touches new highs when a woman goes ‘What the hell!’ but the subtitle says ‘What the inferno!’ Buzzfeed.com lists several others, which make the dialogues worse: ‘Bitch’ becomes ‘woman’ (same thing?); ‘Jesus’ becomes ‘God’ (makes it somehow neutral?); or when two women are talking about babies and the benefits of breastfeeding, the subtitles call it ‘chestfeeding’. That’s not even a word! No wonder gay/lesbian is turned into ‘queer’.
Even Julia Roberts isn’t spared. The ‘Pretty Woman’ wants to tell the Richard Gere character that she’s wearing no panties; but the subtitles says she’s wearing no ‘short pants’. Well, I wasn’t expecting her to be wearing short pants anyway.
If the patriarchal tone and sheer stupidity of the whole thing wasn’t apparent in the bitch/woman analogy, I’ve even seen the word ‘penis’ being used freely in the dialogue as well as the subtitles, though ‘vagina’ becomes ‘female part’.
The role of religion too goes beyond the Jesus/God equation. An article by the news agency AP recalls how an episode of ‘Friends’ turned into a legend of sorts: “The show hinged on the gag that two pages in a cookbook got stuck together and the character Rachel mistakenly made a fruit pastry with beef. The station beeped out the word ‘beef’, a show of sensitivity for Hindus’ reverence for cows, leaving viewers to guess why her diners were so disgusted.”
But it’s hard to know whom to pick a beef with over this. There are no set rules and everyone is free to write to the channels. An internal panel of the industry — Broadcast Content Complaint Council — decides what is offensive. It is apparent that logic plays little part in this beeping, and the possibility of arson by political idiots remains a key factor. There is a post-11pm slot for adult shows (not porn), but the beeping continues 24x7.
One can obviously understand the nature of cultural clash and other such sociological phenomena to put the beeping in context. Hypocrisy and confusion are the markers of such processes, and change is a slow process. But how vague can you be?
It is one thing to ban bad language, quite another to beep the word ‘Gandhi’. Yes, they did that, when the scientist Sheldon in ‘The Big Bang Theory’ explained why he won’t forgive a colleague who stole his thesis papers: “I am sorry, but I am not like beep.” The original is available on the internet.