Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (2024)

The Indian audience is no stranger to watching films getting cut, blurred and beeped over the years. One may say we've almost grown immune to it, but that was until we were introduced to the unfiltered and unadulterated world of OTT.
Digital streaming platforms from Netflix to Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar to Lionsgate Play and Jio Cinema, among others, have had their eyes fixed on the lucrative subscription market.

According to a report by EY, India topped the list of the countries that spent the most time on Netflix with revenues expected to touch $3 billion by 2024. Jio, on the other hand, unveiled its plans last month that could widen India’s OTT market and lure more audiences into the streaming universe.
The growing popularity of these platforms has seemingly awakened the sleeping censorship beast.
Over the past months, various OTT subscribers have been vocal about movies and web series being censored. "So deeply saddened by the fact that #Oppenheimer’s OTT release in India is on Jio Cinema, a platform that has kept the same, censored theatrical print with enormous anti-smoking labels. Such a shame," said @Ronak_Kamat after catching the Oscar-winning Christopher Nolan film online.

Media outlets around the world took note of the uproar over the

Censor Board

's rather 'sanskari' way of covering up Florence Pugh's nude scene with a CGI outfit, even for the 'A' rated screening.

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (1)

More recently, the buzz around

Dev Patel

's action film '

Monkey Man

' had fans in India waiting to watch it after the flood of rave reviews coming in from the West. After a delay in the scheduled April release, there was no new update from the makers or the

CBFC

. The radio silence prompted an RTI petition from Aroon Deep, to seek the result of the Examining Committee and the Revising Committee's decision on clearing the film for release.
"There is no larger public interest that warrants the disclosure of such information, hence, the requested information cannot be provided under Section 8(1)(j) of the RT Act 2005 and Rule 23(5) of the Cinematograph (Certification) Rule 2024," read the official reply.

Even as the film gears up for its digital release on Peaco*ck next week, there is no word about its release in India. A source in the know tells us, "The board knows that people are very sensitive to religious scriptures and it does not want to get into any controversy where the sentiments of people can be hurt. The body which is responsible for the certification of this film has to fight so many cases all the time because the whole country notices (this content) from anywhere. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is under so much pressure all the time for certification, so at times they have to negotiate with the creative person that if you can change it, it will be a benefit for all."
To Censor or Not to Censor?
The censorship of films and web series has been a long-drawn debate. Trade analyst Taran Adarsh feels that the rules also need to be changed in changing times. "We need to be more liberal with the times," he says and adds, "but at the same time, we (filmmakers) need to draw a line. What happens is that some filmmakers tend to go overboard in depicting certain scenes. This needs to be curtailed and regulated. That's the reason why a Censor Board is crucial in implementing that."
Director Sandeep A Varma, on the other hand, shared his views on the censorship issue and classified them into two categories. He explained, "One is the official kind of censorship - where we are told what you can, and cannot keep. And the second is the unofficial kind - brought on by fear psychosis."
Opening up about the roadblocks he faced while getting his web series commissioned for an OTT platform, he said, "Obviously censorship creates a big problem because when we used to talk about it, it often referred to showing too much violence, blood, gore and p*rnographic stuff. But now I feel it's also about representation, where a certain religion or community cannot be shown in a negative or positive light. That has become a bit of a problem."
Former CBFC Chief

Pahlaj Nihalani

also pointed out the disparity in content censorship that falls under different ministries. He said, "One requires certification, but for OTT, you don't require a certificate, because there is no policy that makes it compulsory. Platforms may be asking for it, just for safeguard."
Pointing out the different conditions that apply for different platforms, he tells us, "When I was the Censor Board Chairperson, I wrote a letter to the ministry, that you abolish this system or specify the content which we are going to show on the number of the rating system."
The Rating System
Just last year, Shah Rukh Khan's Rs 1000 crore blockbuster Pathaan stirred controversy for featuring Deepika Padukone in an orange bikini. Reacting to the backlash, Shabana Azmi said in a media interaction, "CBFC is not a censorship board!"
She then went on to suggest, "We must adopt the US rating system, whereby the filmmakers and artists themselves yield and decide that they do not want a single cut, but they realise that age-appropriate behaviour is important. If they have a universal exhibition, then they voluntarily give cuts."

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (2)

Elaborating on the Indian rating system, Nihalani shared, "There were only four ratings (U, UA, A and S). I think there should be at least seven ratings, so as an audience you are aware what kind of content you are going to consume with your family."

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (3)

Director Sandeep adds, "Essentially, what the rating system is saying is that, you as a viewer are responsible for what you watch. We are not going to tell you what you should or should not watch. We will just inform you that this film or web series has this kind of content for which we will give it a 'PG' rating. I like that system because I think that's giving respect to the audience and telling them, 'We trust you will make the right choice'. After all, who is anyone else to decide what I should watch?"
Director Suparn Varma also shared his views on the matter. He says, "The fact is that people are adult enough to know what they wish to see and don't wish to see. I think the rating system is the best system that should exist and it should allow adults to make choices. It's literally as simple as that."
Indian rating system vs Foreign rating systems
The Indian rating system currently has four rating systems - U: All ages; UA (Children of ages 7+, UA 13+ and UA 16+); A: Adults only and S: Restricted to a specific group of people.
Many would assume that movie ratings are consistent worldwide, however, on closer inspection, there are significant differences.

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (4)


Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (5)


Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (6)


Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (7)


Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (8)


Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (9)

The 2023 thriller 'Satburn', starring Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan got two different ratings during its release in the UK and US. The film was Rated 'R' in the US for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language, some disturbing violent content, and drug use. However, it was given a 15 age rating in the UK for strong sex, nudity, sexual threat, drug misuse, and very strong language.
The film wasn't released in India

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (10)

It has been noted that in countries like the USA, films with strong, brutal scenes and action are restricted to 'Adults', while in European markets, the same film may be viewed by 15-year-olds. Todd Phillips' '

Joker

' was rated 'R' by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) in the United States for strong bloody violence, disturbing behaviour, language and brief sexual images.
In the United Kingdom, the BBFC gave the film a 15 certificate for "strong bloody violence [and] language". The Indian Censor Board, on the other hand, awarded the film an 'A' certificate, however, the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) upheld the Censor Board's decision not to allow the Joaquin Phoenix-starrer to be aired on TV channels as it felt that the movie "glorified violence." The film was eventually available for streaming on Netflix.

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (11)

In some countries, movie ratings not only restrict adolescents from viewing certain films but also restrict adults from watching them. In markets like UAE and Singapore, some movies are restricted to the 21+ age group. Other countries like South Korea restrict screenings of 'R' rated films, exclusively to adult theatres.
Taran shared his views on the same and explained, "What is applicable in a particular country, it could be the USA or UK or France or Germany, may not be applicable here. For instance, when 'Adipurush' (based on the Ramayana) was released, maybe it ran seamlessly in the US, but in India, certain themes and portions lead to an uproar."
Self-Censorship
There's no denying that the rating system may help, but it may not be a foolproof method to steer clear of controversy. In the recent case of Annu Kapoor's 'Hamare Baarah', the Bombay High Court on Wednesday, deferred its release till June 14, 2024, after Azhar Tamboli, through advocate Mayur Khandeparkar, sought a stay on the film, saying that it does not just hurt the sentiments, of the Muslim community but incorrectly portrays the Quran. Pointing out certain objectionable dialogues in the film, which were also shown in the trailer and promotional videos, Khandeparkar raised objection over the film's rating saying,"By no stretch of the imagination can the film be given a U/A certificate."
Pahlaj advises filmmakers and content creators to show restrain and suggests 'self-censorship'. He says, "When people are making films, they should take self-censorship into account. The serials coming on the television often do their own censorship, because they are screened on government channels. They can't show adult content. So, why make a web series with adult content?"
Taran also agreed on the same and reasoned, "I hope that people with a very rational approach towards filmmaking will have self-censorship. At the same time, I feel that there needs to be a body to draw a line somewhere."
Politics at Play
One would ask why the government can't set up a clear-cut framework for its rating system. The answer lies in the vastly different social and cultural backgrounds of the country's rural and urban audiences.
Pahlaj cites that the government will not change the guidelines, "because the audience come from different places, backgrounds, traditions and culture. When they view content, they are not seeing it only for the urban audience, but have to think of people viewing this in villages and other rural areas. The government has to take into consideration India as a whole and not just to give the liberty for the urban people to do as they please."
This paints a grim picture of the future of foreign content making inroads into India. The producer adds, "We are left behind Hollywood because people complain that they are being taken to court to fight these long battles."
However, Taran begs to differ saying, "Most of them are releasing their films in India days before even the US. If they find something objectionable, then there is an issue."

Can a change in the Censor Board's rating system help ease India's censorship woes? An ETimes Exclusive | - Times of India (2024)
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