Last Saturday, select members of the film and television industry were invited to a meeting, at a five-star hotel in Mumbai with members of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), previously known as the censor board.
The main topic of discussion was the board's recent, controversial embargo on the telecast of Vidya Balan-starrer The Dirty Picture, a National Award-winning biopic inspired by the life of southern siren Silk Smitha.
At the meeting, Padma Shri Leela Samson, renowned Bharata Natyam exponent and current chairperson of the CBFC, and Pankaja Thakur, chief executive officer, spoke to HT about other recent controversies and the change they are trying to bring about. Excerpts from the interview...
What is the story behind The Dirty Picture not being telecast?
Leela Samson: The channel was promoting the film aggressively and there was this idea in everyone's mind that the film has adult-oriented content, which, according to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting guidelines, cannot be shown on TV before 11 pm. Two days before the TV release, a directive was issued to the ministry by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court in response to a public interest litigation filed a week earlier. The ministry was questioned and threw the ball in our court. The PIL was filed under the assumption that the version certified for TV had an A certificate. However, we had asked for 59 cuts - about eight minutes - and certified it U/A. Now, it seems that people don't understand the U/A rating.
Pankaja Thakur: The problem arose because the channel was showing it without having advertised it as a film that requires parental guidance. The general perception in India is that TV is an unrestricted medium. Moreover, the channel wanted to show it at noon, a time when kids would be glued to the TV as there was also an IPL match on at that time.
There seem to be many inconsistencies in the way the board certifies films.
Why is this?
LS: India is a diverse country and standards differ everywhere. The examining committees and regional officers of each region hail from there itself and they evaluate their own films. For example, in the south, they are much more tolerant of violence because their films have traditionally had more of it. They'd be much more likely to frown upon a kiss, and ask for a U/A or an A rating. In Mumbai, it's the opposite; people are okay with kisses but more likely to disapprove of violence.
The board seems to have problems with sex and nudity, even when depicted in an aesthetic manner, but not with crude, sexist and borderline racist content, as in films such as Ra.One and Rascals. Why is this?
PT: We agree that the content in these films was crude. But the examining committee is made up of five members and a majority of those five could think it hilarious. Also, we don't get any complaints about these films. But when we pass a Delhi Belly, we get flooded with thousands of angry letters.
LS: I'm glad we allowed Delhi Belly to pass. But I won't deny that we've made mistakes in the past. All we can do is take note and try not to repeat them.
Two weeks ago, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar received a National Award for Inshallah, Football, a documentary that was banned by the CBFC. How do you explain this?
PT: The film has not been banned; it has been given an A certificate. The fact that there are no platforms to exhibit a documentary that is rated A is not CBFC's problem. Kumar should approach the government and ask them for platforms.
Indian audiences missed out on David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because the CBFC asked for five cuts...
PT: The same film was released in Japan with a couple of scenes blurred out. Does anyone know if David Fincher has actually said this, or is it merely the production house saying it?
Had they asked for a revision, who knows, perhaps the number of cuts and modifications could've been lowered.
With alternate media like YouTube offering a censorship-free environment for filmmakers, especially in the case of trailers, what is the CBFC's plan for the future?
PT: We are planning to submit a proposal to the ministry wherein we will ask for amendments to the Cinematograph Act. These will include a provision for all trailers uploaded online to be required to have a censor certificate. We will also ask for more categories, 12+ and 15+.
This will give filmmakers much more flexibility.