Even if you’re the most cursory TV watcher, you can’t have missed the bizarre censorship on our English movie and entertainment channels. Seen a promo of Agneepath with the Chikni Chameli song? The song features a burning match and a beedi, both of which appear for a couple of seconds on screen (to match with the lyrics: husn ki teeli se beedi chillum jalane aayi). But both matchstick and beedi have been blurred. No one is actually smoking in the song, yet it has been censored. Soon the very sight of a matchbox or a packet of unlit cigarettes might be banned from our screens. Of course, if anyone commits the heinous crime of actually lighting up on screen, there is no question of not blurring out the evil act. (I have a better idea, why not blur out the character altogether? Incidentally, on Comedy Central I’m told, they blur out images of women smoking, but for some reason, the men are left alone).
The censorship isn’t limited to smoking. Is there a painting of a nude woman on the wall in a film? You can be sure the painting will be blurred out. And let’s not even get started on the censoring of dialogues. Even remotely offensive words are dealt with most severely. They are either missing from the subtitles or replaced with other words.
Even inoffensive words get this treatment. Words like sex are routinely censored (“The *blank* was great”). Even the word ‘beef’ is erased. (“I will now cook some *blank* for you”). Sometimes the word ‘ass’ is censored even if the word is being used to refer to the actual animal.
Would TV executives care to explain what is going on? Censorship is all very well if you are trying to protect viewers from disturbing and graphic material. But when taken to its extreme, it becomes plain silly — and scary. Will we reach a point when two characters fighting bitterly with each other will be deemed unsuitable viewing? We may as well be shown fairy tales then — but fairy tales too have dark emotions. Perhaps we should just stare at blank screens.
Despite all this censorship on English channels, we have no choice but to watch them. For the past few weeks, I’ve been watching Outsourced on ZCafé, which is a show around a call centre in Mumbai, managed by an American, well, manager called Tod. He’s confused and confounded by India and by his motley group of Indian employees, all of whom speak with very funny accents (the way foreigners think Indians speak; perhaps this is how we sound to them, but it’s definitely not the way we sound to ourselves). The show is reasonably amusing at times (are call centres really run like that?)
I’ve also been catching up on two of the older comedies that are enjoying a revival on Comedy Central: ’Allo ’Allo and Fawlty Towers. The former is very very funny, really, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a comedy that takes the mickey out of the French — and the Germans and the British. Fawlty Towers is also good for a few laughs but it comes across as rather dated.
And finally. Talking of humour — all the three film award nights shown recently on various TV channels had Shah Rukh Khan as the chief anchor. And it has to be said — no one can do awards night compering the way he can. The politically incorrect jokes, the complete unapologetic lack of gravitas: it is total entertainment.