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Watching What You Watch

February 10, 2013

India film certification

Indians love movies.  India produces more movies than the US – about 1,300 per year compared to US production of 700 or so.  Even though movie admissions have dropped in recent years (as they have worldwide), in 2009 about 2.9 billion movie tickets were sold in India, compared to 1.4 billion in the US.  India has 3 times the population of the US, so that’s fewer tickets per capita.  But the cost of a movie ticket here is anywhere from Rs. 100 to 450.  That’s a major expense here, where average families have an income of Rs. 10,000 – 20,000 per month – imagine spending a 1/10th of your monthly salary to take the family to the movies?  My guess is if you look at the top 1/2 of earners here, per capita movies attendance would be way more than in the US.

But the movies here are heavily regulated.  What you see above comes from my TV.  Before any film is shown – on TV or in a theater – the certificate is first displayed.  This is issued by the Central Board of Film Certification.  The CBFC is responsible for film ratings: “U”, unrestricted, “UA”, unrestricted but with adult themes, “A”, adults-only, and “S”, special audiences only (I don’t know what these “S” films would be).

In addition to setting ratings, the CBFC also has a censor role and can block the display of films that are deemed to not be “ … responsible and sensitive to the values and
standards of society”.  Between 2001-2011, 256 films were denied certification, including The Mexican (2001), starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and more recently The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011); essentially movies showing nudity are not allowed in India.  Now, violence is OK, even extreme violence, but T & A is forbidden.

The rules the board operates under include many prohibitions, including these: 

(iv) pointless or avoidable scenes of violence, cruelty and horror, scenes of
violence primarily intended to provide entertainment and such scenes as may
have the effect of desensitising or dehumanising people are not shown;
(v) scenes which have the effect of justifying or glorifying drinking are not shown;
(vi) Scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise drug addiction are not shown;
(vi-a) Scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise consumption of tobacco or
smoking are not shown;
(vii) human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity;
(viii) such dual meaning words as obviously cater to baser instincts are not allowed;

Considering rule VIII, it’s clear that Benny Hill will never make it to India.  Typical scene:

British gentlemen to girl in maid’s uniform: “Are you to be let with the room?”

Girl: “No sir, I am to be let alone.”

The public must be protected.

Anyway, once the films pass here, the process is not over.  The script of each film is reviewed and possibly offensive words are removed or changed, especially anything having to do with sex or religion.  This is what we saw on TV watching The Matrix Revolutions:

India subtitles

Here Capt. Mifune remarks to the Kid, “Ain’t that the damn truth”.  The audio is unbleeped, but oddly the subtitles have to be sanitized.  Other changes you’ll see watching an English language movie include “nonsense” for bullshit, “crap” for shit (??), and “backside” for ass.  I’m sure readers can imagine the peculiar wordings that this “nonsense” sometimes leads to.

Something else that comes up constantly in movies here is a flashed-in anti-smoking message, typically reading “Neither this film nor the actors endorse smoking, which is a serious health hazard.”  I have to say, this is utterly ridiculous.  There’s no question tobacco use represents a health crisis in India; tobacco-caused cancers lead to a million deaths each year in India.  However there is virtually no public health spending here; India ranks 171 out of 175 countries.  There are no anti-tobacco campaigns, educational resources, nothing that would have actual impact.

Ok, reading what I have above, seems I have to lighten up.  Yes, censorship, nanny-statism, ineffectual bureaucracy, linguistic cleanliness, all bad stuff.  On the other hand, here in India you can turn on TV anytime night or day and see this:

Baser-instincts or no, you just can’t be in a bad mood after you watch one of these.

Categories: Expat life
  1. Ravi Ranjan
    February 17, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Indian censorship board has been as hypocritical as government. While nudity is not allowed, there has been flood of demeaning and cheap songs locally known as item numbers as easy way to boost movie revenue.

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