Dear CBFC, a guide to your guidelines

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 01, 2017 13:05 hrs
Dear CBFC, a guide to your guidelines

(Image tweeted by @LipstickMovie)

Dear CBFC,

For the first time in months, I felt enlightened after one of your headline-making stunts this year.

Of course, like most of India’s movie-watching public, I realised for the first time that “lady oriented” stories were not kosher.

But I also realised I had grown up watching films that were a violation of one or more – and sometimes all – of your guidelines, but that had somehow conned you into giving them a ‘U/A’ rating.

So, let me do you a good turn. Let me explain your guidelines to you, and also detail some of the films that you ought not to have certified.

The reason I read the guidelines, of course, was this grammatically incorrect gem from you, stating your reasons for refusing to certify the film Lipstick Under My Burkha. You had said:

“The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines 1(a), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i).”

I’m not going to explain grammar to you. It would be too monumental a task. But I do have some doubts because of the uniqueness of your spellings and phrasings, and Google does not have all the answers. So let me go with those.

“Their fantasy above life” is one of the phrases that most intrigue me here. To my understanding, fantasy is usually different from life. I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be above or below, but then this would essentially mean all those filmswhere the rich girl falls in love with the auto-driver, rickshaw-puller, taxi guy, and the masters of various dimensions of wheels, starting from the chariot to the Pushpak Viman, should never have been certified. This ought to mean, too, that no video from the Indian Science Congress of 2015, where great minds theorised that interstellar travel was invented in the Vedic Age, should be certified for public display, since their fantasy is above life too.

As for “contanious”, I’m not entirely sure whether you meant “contagious” or “contentious”. If you were talking about “contagious sexual scenes”, again, all those films where the hero’s stalking and harassment of the object of his affection have proven to be contagious across the country should not have been certified. As for “contentious sexual scenes”, I’m guessing this has to do with the logistics of the sexual act; from what I hear, the possibilities tend to correlate with flexibility. At least, Vatsyayana appears to believe so, and we don’t want to argue with Vedic wisdom, surely?

I thought being sensitive about sections of society is usually a good thing, but I’m not sure what your “bit sensitive touch” is. You’ve probably thrown in too much subtlety, a trait most films could use. Good on you if you were going for a touch of metaphysics in there, but since most films are insensitive about sections of society such as women and differently-abled people, and transgender people et al, maybe you could clarify this point?

This reservation about “abusive words” and “audio pornography” is news to me. I’ve lived through a time when playback singers gasped and sighed on behalf of the Silk Smithas and Kimi Katkars, as well as through a time when the biggest hit songs were called “Bhaag bhaag D. K. Bose, D. K. Bose, D.K. Bose” and “Balatkari”, so, oh, well, looks like you have some chop-chop to do.

So I read your guidelines 1 (a), 2 (vii), (ix), (x), (xi), (xii), and 3 (i), the principles on the basis of which this film – which from the trailer appears to be about women taking control of their lives – was refused certification.

So, 1 (a) demands that “the medium of film remains responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of society”. It appears you have chosen to ignore 1 (b), which recommends that “artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed”. Unless, of course, you think getting a wax or buying lipstick or getting pregnant or using condoms or consummating a relationship are against the values and standards of society.

Then, 2 (vii) asks that “human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity”. I didn’t realise that any of the aforementioned acts were vulgar, obscene, or depraved. But I have watched a series of Housefull films and Dabanggs and Dhooms which ticked all of those boxes and then broke box office records, so...I’m a bit confused here.

2 (ix) says “scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented”. All the women in this film, from the two and a half minutes I’ve been allowed to watch, seem to have agency. Does having agency degrade and denigrate women? If that is the case, I suppose it would explain why this film has not been certified, while every film which has the hero telling the heroine how to behave like a woman has been given your stamp of approval.

The biggest surprise for me was 2 (x), which says, “scenes involving sexual violence against women like attempt to rape, rape or any form of molestation or scenes of a similar nature are avoided, and if any such incidence is germane to the theme, they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown”.

Now, growing up in the Nineties, I don’t remember too many Tamil or Hindi films which did not depict this “germane” scene of rape – where a woman’s legs, exposed to the knee, would struggle under the shiny-shoe-clad legs of a man; they would finally relax, the man would sit up and wipe his smug face, while the woman shed tears of shame, pain, and other undetailed germane emotions.

Somewhat related is 2 (xi), which reads “scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided and if such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown”. The sexual perversion in question seems to be that one of the women in the trailer seems to be enjoying her make-out session with this dude, which is more than can be said for any of those women in the rape scenes I’ve spoken about.

As for 2 (xii), which says, “visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented”, I’d like to know whether you consider women and folks who identify as LGBTQI “groups”, or whether they’re generally deserving of contempt. If it’s the latter, I suppose Dostana could pass muster, but if not you might want to revisit that one. And Housefull. And Dabangg.

3 (i) reads “The Board of Film Certification shall also ensure that the film is judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact”; again, this must mean you ought to revisit all those Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, and serial multi-starrers.

I do hope you will take this letter in the right spirit, and promptly withdraw the certification for every film ever made, since each one violates some aspect of your guidelines.

Yours sincerely,

Bharatiya Nari

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.