Why Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine didn’t make it to India

The Health Ministry directive to all films showing smoking to mandatorily add anti-smoking disclaimer videos has been ridiculed, opposed by many CBFC members themselves, made fun of in films and now, snubbed by Woody Allen, who chose not to release Blue Jasmine, his latest film in India than have his film defaced by warnings, disclaimers and poorly shot campaign videos.

Since the insertion of the statutory messages had to be done in a lab in U.K. that was handling the print, and alterations had to be cleared only through the producer, the local distributors PVR Cinemas had no choice but to route the insertion request to the lab through the producer. And the producers replied saying that Woody Allen did not want his film to have any message that would distract the audience from the scene.

Having seen the screener that was sent to the censors, one can see why. Because ordinarily, nobody would have even noticed the odd cigarette since smoking is hardly a dominant theme or a recurring event in Blue Jasmine that is more a Cate Blanchett vehicle (one likely to get her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, not that Woody cares for the Academy) and as many critics observed, his modern reworking of the play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Even if Woody Allen did agree to this exercise of adding disclaimers and warnings and videos, it would have cost the distributors another Rs. 25,000 (to modify the existing file and generate a fresh digital print and twice that amount if it were a film print) which makes it mandatory for the film to sell an extra 1,000-2,000 tickets. With niche English films restricted to metros, a limited release (roughly 12-20 shows over a week) does not even make economic sense given the additional cost involved in licence fees for digital projection per week (the digital print licence alone costs about Rs.10,000 per screen). With 30 per cent of the ticket price going towards entertainment tax, and the rest shared equally by exhibitor and distributor, the returns are already too low for distributors to spend an additional amount in altering the print by adding warnings, disclaimers and videos.

If this practice of showing these videos must continue, maybe the better alternative here would be to enforce cinema halls to play the video unconditionally irrespective of films shown, ahead of the film, instead of making it compulsory for films to alter their content.