Remember when we were in school, and first, ‘fool’ was a bad word, and then ‘ass’ was a bad word, and then ‘damn’ was a bad word, and then other four-letter words that rhyme with ‘duck’ and ‘runt’ and ‘pick’ were banned? Well, in India, it appears the censors have gone in the reverse order. And it hit me one day, when the word “bed” was beeped out from a line in a film that went, “He’s so good in bed”.
Our television channels began by substituting cusswords with alternatives in the subtitles, and then began to beep out the cusswords themselves. Apparently, “sex” is now a banned word, substituted with the more Mills and Boon-like “making love”. No, it isn’t Making Love and the City yet. I checked.
It’s bad enough that our censors believe our nation can be morally corrupted by watching naked and semi-naked people on screen. And that smoking and drinking on screen is practically taboo. Now, with cartoons being pulled out of textbooks for want of political correctness, and words being deemed too grown-up for Indian ears, and websites being scrutinised for content, can we actually pretend that we believe in freedom of speech?
In most countries, film has been a tool of protest, of subversion. And while we can fault the idiocy of politicians for the fuss they’re raking up over cartoons and social media content, the blame game gets a little more complex when it comes to art.
The movie Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t release in Indian theatres because the director refused to allow any cuts to the film. And it was a great decision – most of the film’s pivotal scenes occur when one or more of the actors are nude. Of course, none of our vernacular directors can afford to take such a stand.
But what are we, as an audience, doing? As if it isn’t bad enough that we keep quiet when films are being screened with unnecessary cuts, we make noise when art of any kind that doesn’t appeal to our agendas are opened to the public.
From disrupting art shows, to picketing plays (The Vagina Monologues wasn’t staged in several cities because of protests), to calling for a ban on movies and books, we’ve proven ourselves completely intolerant of any opinion that doesn’t concur with ours.
In a country where the slightest provocation can stoke communal tensions, the only pragmatic solution is to ban anything that is deemed controversial or offensive by a large enough, or powerful enough, lobby.
And the result of such repression is that everyone who wants to understand movies ends up downloading them. Or, used to, till the courts clamped down on practically all video-sharing sites, some of which have been made accessible again recently.
The other offshoot is that film festivals are crowded with a bunch of sex-starved individuals craving the odd sight of naked flesh.
There are films that have been shot by Indian directors that can’t be shown in India despite having won acclaim at film festivals across the world, because our audience is deemed too cultured or too corruptible to handle scenes of physical intimacy.
Isn’t it time our censors realised that the prescribed moral code for our film, and therefore our country, is outdated? That it’s embarrassing that films that deal with premarital sex and extramarital attraction and same-sex relationships and pregnancy out of wedlock are considered ‘bold’ more than a decade into the new millennium?
More by the same author:
Sarabjit case: When the media causes heartbreak
Why India loves Aamir's Satyamev Jayate
India’s world-stage race: Hunger at home, kudos abroad
Ambedkar toon row: Don't let politicians decide what's funny for us
Do we really need beef and pork festivals?
Ten ‘Lists’ they need to stop making!
The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com