Netflix has released a censored cut of Anubhav Sinha’s film Bheed, bucking its usual practice of putting out uncut versions of films it acquires from Indian producers. The film’s teaser outraged right-leaning commentators close to the government, as it featured a voice-over of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a line of dialogue comparing the chaos of the COVID-19 migrant crisis to the partition of India and Pakistan.
Following the pushback, the film’s producers put out a fresh cut of the teaser, without Mr. Modi’s voice, and without the line comparing the migrant crisis to the partition. Two spokespeople for Netflix India were unavailable for comment; a third did not respond to The Hindu’s queries by press time. Mr. Sinha, the film’s director, also did not respond to a query.
The film’s producers also didn’t push back, at least publicly, on the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)‘s long list of cuts before approving the film for release. The cuts include dropping all instances of seven swear words, reducing visuals of police brutality (something the CBFC routinely asks for), replacing “Prime Minister” with “Minister”, and removing voiceovers of PM Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “This is slaughter,” exclaimed Anna M.M. Vetticad, one of the critics who reviewed the film.
This is the cut that Netflix has now uploaded, scrubbing the film clean of all associations with the government, and muting some of its rhetorical efforts.
Since the government has not objected to uncensored cuts of films on streaming services — the legal regime for OTT streaming services is, at least on paper, far more permitting than for cinemas and television, where streaming services sometimes put out uncensored cuts of films after their run on the big screen comes to an end. Some, like Disney+ Hotstar, do not take this risk, and routinely put out censored cuts of films. However, Netflix generally puts out uncensored cuts of new films, with new films like Dasara and Virupaksha coming out intact, according to a review of the theatrical cuts and the streaming version. ZEE5 recently put out an uncensored and extended version of the Tamil film Viduthalai.
Even Netflix, which has a better record on preserving films’ original forms online, hesitates when it comes to angering the Union Government and its supporters. For instance, while the company generally puts out uncensored cuts of Hollywood films, it did not do so in the case of Mission Impossible: Fallout, which featured a map of Jammu and Kashmir with borders that the Indian government objects to.