While filmmakers protest the inconsistency of film ratings, Censor Board officials justify certification in the regional and cultural context
Eyebrows have been raised once again. Filmmakers are crying foul over inconsistency of ratings given by the Central Board of Film Certification in the wake of the Delhi gang rape case. In addition to smoking and drinking, films with item numbers (especially provocative lyrics or sexist content) are more likely to get an Adult certificate than a U/A certificate.
And in states such as Tamil Nadu, filmmakers are complaining over the increasing number of things they cannot show to get a U certificate simply because getting a U/A certificate makes the film ineligible for entertainment tax exemption provided by the Tamil Nadu Government. Getting an entertainment tax exemption saves producers about 30 per cent of the box office collections that go to the State.
As a CBFC insider on the condition of anonymity maintains, “We are not in the business of censoring but we have to keep in mind the sensitivities of the society in the wake of a gruesome incident. We cannot have a song like ‘Chikni Chameli’ carpet bombed on national TV.”
After a section of the media carried reports from filmmakers blaming the Board for stricter rules, Leela Samson, Chairperson of CBFC, in a press release earlier this month clarified, “The guidelines governing certification of films, trailers, or any part thereof simply state that they will be certified depending on the age-group of audiences that they are suitable for. Hence, dance numbers too will continue to be examined purely on a case-to-case basis to see whether they are suitable for a U, UA, or A certificate.”
“The issue, at the last mile of it, is economics,” as producer S. Sashikanth of Y Not Studios points out. “If there’s adult content, it is rejected at the script level because the conditions are not right. The fact is most of the writers and creators are complying with it, because you cannot put up a fight. When you don’t get a U certificate, there’s a substantial amount of revenue loss and the project becomes unviable.”
“Moderate taxation applied uniformly to films irrespective of certification will help solve this. For an industry making continuous loss, creative freedom is completely curtailed by these restrictions,” adds Sashikanth.
The standard for TV content is not the same as imposed on movies, points out a Tamil filmmaker who was sure he had made a clean U-film with no sexual content or violence. “It becomes a morality issue. Some of the board members object to depiction of women drinking. At some level, this is moral policing.”
Insisting that guidelines are subject to interpretation and the discretion of the examining committee that is revised every two years, a senior Board member explained that films are always rated on a case-to-case basis. “Yes, there may be some cultural regional differences. We find a lot of Hindi-dubbed regional cinema too violent that we wonder how they were rated U in the South. So it is possible that women in the examining committee in the South may not be comfortable with the idea of depiction of women drinking in a U-rated film. Yes, we do sensitise our members on a periodic basis,” says the CBFC member. “But these people on the board are members from society. Just like governments reflect what people want, representatives from our society reflect what we want to see.”
Moral issues apart, the anti-smoking videos and disclaimers, the mandatory requirement from the Health Ministry, have come under severe criticism by filmmakers from around the country.
“We are just following the law of the land,” a CBFC official insists. “We resisted it but there’s nothing more we can do about it.”
“The State has always found ways to control content. If they can’t ban it, they will find ways to do it,” says Luv Ranjan, director of Pyaar Ka Punchnaama and Akaash Vani. “Those three anti-smoking videos will spoil your mood before watching the film. Their argument is that people will eventually get used to seeing these videos. But if they will anyway get desensitised to these videos, then why have them when they will not be effective?”
“The Indian Government is always finding ways to blame cinema. How can you blame everything on cinema? To think that rapes happen because of item numbers is ridiculous. We are trying to curb all these evils only in cinema. People will drink and smoke everywhere, there will be alcohol shops everywhere but we cannot show them on screen. They keep insisting that they are not censoring, only certifying but it is censorship when you cannot show your film as you made it on TV. Why are the changing guidelines not transparent? Films are not made overnight. Why not announce them well in advance so that people don’t waste money shooting things that will anyway not be allowed to show?”
Board officials maintain that every filmmaker is offered the choice to explain his case and certification is always given depending on the merit of the argument. “We always look at the larger issue. Is the film endorsing alcoholism or not? The new guidelines require the lead actor to clarify that the film does not endorse drinking. For Marenthen Mannithen, for example, the makers were asked to add a clip where the lead actor tells people that the film does not endorse or support drinking,” a Chennai-based CBFC member explains.
National award winning filmmaker Onir says: “We are going back in time. A film like Salaam Bombay with its content got a U/A despite all the violence. And the fact that it was co-produced by Doordarshan only shows how progressive we used to be back then. Today, even National award winning films don’t get shown on TV.”
“We gave Kai Po Che a U certificate, despite the sensitive content and violence. We are as liberal as we can be, given the context,” says the CBFC official.