The recent brouhaha over the film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', has once again raised the issue of censorship in our country and its arbitrary interpretation.
The film, reportedly about four small-town women who try to negotiate their sexual freedom from within the confines of their restricted lives, was refused a certificate by the CBFC, because it is “lady oriented” and contains “sexual scenes” and “audio pornography”. Does that mean a film which was male oriented could get away with anything? Because that is how things work—the most vulgar of ‘item’ number pander to the male gaze and so does the increasing amount of violence and profanity that gets passed according to the whims and fancies of members of the board. If films can be freely seen on DVD and the internet, what is the point of censorship?
It is clear that our filmmakers will not get into self-censorship, and if all curbs are removed, will push for anything they can get away with in the name of creative freedom. It has also been seen that our audiences can sometimes be liberal and then unpredictably conservative. Those who want to access ‘forbidden’ content can do so on their mobile phones.
So far, a censor certificate protected the filmmaker from frivolous lawsuits—anybody taking offence to anything in any part of the country and hauling the filmmaker and star to the court. But of late it has been seen that any fringe group can protest against anything and threaten the film and those associated with violence.
In a situation like this, what is the meaning of a censor certificate? Also, once the scenes in a film are snipped, who checks if the cuts are even carried out or that kids in some distant town are not watching films certified for ‘Adults Only’?
Pahlaj Nihalani gets the flack every time Board goofs up, and he does put his foot into his mouth much too often, but it’s the system of censorship itself that needs to be changed and overhauled to reflect the times.
The Shyam Benegal committee’s recommendations seem to have been buried. According to information provided on government websites, the objective of these guidelines would be to ensure that
- Children and adults are protected from potentially harmful or unsuitable content.
- Audiences, particularly parents are empowered to make informed viewing decisions.
- Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed in the process of classification of films.
- The process of certification by CBFC is responsive, at all times, to social change.
- The certification by CBFC keeps within the rights and obligations as laid down in the Indian Constitution.
Which, of course, is easier said than done. But the process has to start sometime, and what better time than now?