Perhaps it is the provocative title of the film or perhaps it is that women are seen engaging, or even grappling, with their sexuality. But clearly something about Lipstick Under My Burkha has set the Central Board of Film Certification’s teeth on edge. The Examining Committee of the Board stated by way of explanation for denying the film certification : “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy about life. There are continuous sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society [they were not referring to women here], hence film refused…”
What’s in a name?
In 1983, the Central Board of Censors was renamed the Central Board of Film Certification, but the hangover seems to continue. When asked why Lipstick was axed instead of being given a more nuanced certification for distribution, Board officials had no answers. They referred to the guidelines crafted by Information and Broadcasting Ministry officials for certification, which, in turn, draw from reasonable restrictions to free speech in the Constitution. The 1991 principles for guidance in certifying films cover everything from depiction of sex to double entendres, to stoking communal passions, to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
According to Board officials, of the 1,700-odd films that come up for certification in a year, only 90 are denied a certificate. Lipstick particularly failed to adhere to Clause 3 in the guidelines, which requires the Examining Committee to ensure that “the film is judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact and is examined in the light of the period depicted in the films and the contemporary standards of the country and the people to which the film relates provided that the film does not deprave the morality of the audience.” Given this tall, tall order, it is no wonder that conforming to the guidelines and obtaining certification for a film that pushes the envelope a little is no easy task.
All the previous Censor Board chiefs, from Anupam Kher to Sharmila Tagore to Leela Samson to Pahlaj Nihalani, have grappled with these guidelines even though censoring films is not their job; it is the preserve of the Examining Committee. An exception to this was Vijay Anand, who stirred the hornet’s nest when he proposed that X-rated films should be exhibited in specially designated theatres. He stepped down when his proposal was rejected. Censor Board chiefs are government appointees and often dovetail with the government of the day despite having their own views. While Mr. Kher grappled with Final Solution , Ms. Tagore with The Da Vinci Code , and Ms. Samson with MSG: The Messenger of God , Mr. Nihalani, who showed no aversion in trampling the guidelines as a producer and filmmaker, is now working hard to ensure that movies cleared by his Board pass the nationalist test.