Censor board thwarts Monkey Man release even after global cuts by Universal Studios toned down political implications

By avoiding a screening for the Dev Patel-starrer, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has prevented Monkey Man from releasing in India without explicitly banning it, The Hindu has learnt.

Updated - June 24, 2024 02:38 am IST

Published - June 24, 2024 12:48 am IST - NEW DELHI

Universal Pictures had scheduled Monkey Man for a theatrical release in India on April 19, 2024 but it has still not been released officially in the country. Photo: Special Arrangement

Universal Pictures had scheduled Monkey Man for a theatrical release in India on April 19, 2024 but it has still not been released officially in the country. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Dev Patel-directed revenge drama Monkey Man, set in a dystopian version of India, is yet to be seen in the country because the Central Board of Film Certification has thwarted its release without formally banning it, by simply not scheduling a screening of the film for its advisory panel, according to a source.

This is despite the fact that Universal Studios has already made changes from its original cut of the film, clipping scenes which sharply emphasised the nexus between religion and politics. The version of the film that was released globally in theatres on April 5, and on streaming platforms in recent months, does not include these scenes. Apart from the cut scenes, Universal Studios also changed the colour of political banners in the film from saffron to red.

The Hindu obtained and reviewed these cut scenes in advance of the planned release of a Blu-ray disc carrying the deleted scenes as additional featurettes, which will soon become available abroad.

No screening

Universal Pictures had scheduled the film for a theatrical release in India on April 19, but it has still not been released officially in the country. According to a source with direct knowledge of the film’s journey through the censorship process, this is because the CBFC, which is in the position to either ban or approve the movie, has simply avoided scheduling a screening of Monkey Man for its Examining Committee.

The Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 2024, notified in March, and its preceding 1983 version, both lay out a five-day deadline for a film to be referred to the Examining Committee, which watches films before taking decisions on what changes should be made, if any. That deadline passed in May, and the film has still not been seen by the censors.

The CBFC declined to reveal any details of the film’s examination in response to a Right to Information request by The Hindu. The CBFC’s Chief Executive Officer, Smita Vats Sharma, upheld its transparency officer’s decision to withhold these details under the Right to Information Act.

Warner Bros Pictures India, which distributes Universal Pictures movies in the country, declined to comment. A Universal Pictures spokesperson has not responded to questions on changes made to the film. 

‘Political reasons’

Actor Makarand Deshpande plays an influential godman in the film, and the scene where he is introduced to viewers was clipped from the film’s global release. In an April interview with film critic Siddharth Kannan, Mr. Deshpande said that Mr. Patel, who is also Monkey Man’s director and one of its producers, told him at a premiere that the cut was made for “political” reasons. This scene was the “soul” of the film’s message and his character, Mr. Deshpande rued. 

In the scene, Mr. Deshpande’s character Baba Shakti meets a gangster-turned-politician from the ruling party — in the film’s fictional universe, the Sovereignty Party, described as a ‘saffron party’ — which has not yet gained national power, but is doing well in the polls. The politician chides the godman as being a ‘fraud,’ and says, “He [a saffron party leader] promised you land, didn’t he? … You can fool the public, not me.” 

“Your power lies in bullets, and mine lies in these beads,” Baba Shakti says, holding up a japamala. A corrupt police officer then kills the politician in the scene, remarking, “What did you think? We’d let a Mullah run this town?” 

On religion-politics nexus

In a second deleted scene from the film’s climax, a whispering child’s voice narrates a prayer in Hindi, as the camera pans over a scene of destruction in a nightclub, inflicted by Mr. Patel’s character. In the film, the character is taking revenge for his mother’s killing during the levelling of a village for land acquisition. Towards the end of the deleted scene, the camera settles on a painting of the god Hanuman during the mythological burning of Lanka, as Baba Shakti lies dead at the protagonist’s feet. 

A third deleted scene shows a newsreader making references to crackdowns against the “LGBT community”, as real-life footage from protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) flash across the screen. (The CAA protests are briefly featured in the version of the film that was released.)

“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics don’t understand religion at all,” Baba Shakti says in the deleted scene where he was introduced. “Faith is the most elegant weapon. For his beliefs, a man can blow himself to pieces for no money. That’s how empires are built.” 

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