The irony is writ large. For a film that has won the National Award, ‘The Dirty Picture’ was blacked out from television broadcast yesterday, the government deeming it unfit for viewing during prime time. The filmmakers went through 59 cuts and two months of negotiations to get a U/A certificate that as per the law makes the film fully legit for broadcast. More importantly, a last minute cancellation means lakhs (if not crores) of advertising cash wasted going down the drain.
So where does this fear of broadcasting something risqué come from? Ostensibly, this ban has been pushed by bureaucratic babus who believe that broadcasting the film will taint the sanctity of the home. In this age of the internet (with which the government has also been at loggerheads), pirated DVDs, MMS clips and reality television the children of a nuclear family are already atomic. It is a delusion to imagine that censorship is going to protect your children from what they really want to see. If they want to see it, they will find it.
Also, were you to see regular programming on TV, you’d notice a phenomenon that is truly repressed and vulgar. The talent show, in which pre-pubescent kids shimmy to pelvic thrusts and what have you over Bollywood songs while Archana Puran Singh & co cackle in approval. How okay is it to cast pre-pubescent kids in such a sexualized mould in which they mimic the repressed adults of Independent India? What about reality TV in which crass is the new cool? What is the last John Carpenter horror flick your kid might have seen when you were out on a Saturday night? There is a lot of stuff out there on cable tv.
In comparison to the bouquet of options available on cable tv, Bollywood itself has been significantly lobotomized by our Censor Board. It is a morality that has done this nation a great disservice culturally and sociologically. This sort of repression vis-à-vis pop culture consumption has created a nation that has a rather disturbing relationship to sex. Sex, if crass and vulgar and leery, is alright. The Dirty Picture itself is a case in point, though that doesn’t mean it needs to be banned from prime time TV. Sexuality in a more authentic format, sex for sex’s sake is a strict no-no on our screens. As a result, the films we have that push the carnal pedal are mainly sleazy erotic thrillers, the Bhatts leading the way with this genre. But how wonderful it might have been if the Karan Johars and Yash Chopras and the Rohit Shettys of the world had not been corseted by our Censor Board.
A former colleague of mine who was just finding her bearings in Bombay city with a new job had taken up paying guest accommodation close to work. So one evening I checked with her if some of us from work could go to her place for an after-work get-together. To this, she replied, “No, women paying guests are not allowed to bring home men to their rooms, I’ve strictly been told by my landlady.” “But why?” I couldn’t help asking. To this, she laughed and replied: “Because as Indians, we’re not supposed to be having sex.” For a nation of a billion and still ticking, one can understand the anxiety. But it’s already too late in the day, one might add. Our minds, after years of repression, are already too dirty. And The Dirty Picture is not going to change that.
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