India’s Censorship in the Cinematographic Field
As Narendra Modi, India’s current prime minister, proudly flaunts about his country’s inclination towards freedom of speech, the Bollywood film industry disapprovingly shakes its head. Contrary to the prime minister’s public declarations, the government’s control of movie content is somewhat stricter than what one might initially perceive.
In 2016, the film “Udta Punjab” was cut up to 89 times before its release to the population; a result of the government’s rigidity and reluctance to comment upon the sedimental Punjab lifestyle.
Rather than viewing the film as an opportunity to raise awareness and perhaps receive external aid, Shiromani Akali Dal - leader of the Punjab political party for over a decade - accused the film of defaming the Punjab community, interpreting it as a form of personal critique.
Commonly referred to as the “censor board”, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has been heavily monitoring the film industry’s content, most commonly in terms of graphic subjects encompassing sexual or violent explicitness deemed too graphic for public display.
As a precondition to the film in question’s release, the riddance of all ranges of references to Punjab, its regions and political terminology mildly referring to it was demanded by Mr. Nihalani, Chairman of the CBCF.
Centred around the region’s predisposition to drug addiction, the dark comedy denounces social issues which the Indian government would have preferred to maintain on a more discrete note. Despite its constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, India appears to be caught in a limbo between this and its older, deep-rooted colonial era paternalistic approach.
In spite of this rigid reception, the film’s producers decided to go ahead with the film’s publication challenging the common notion of Bollywood films lacking political spines. Upon the realisation that not releasing his work to the public would be “morally wrong”, the director Abhishek Chaubey understood that not proceeding would imply that no other political film would ever succeed in being broadcasted among Indian viewers; “Udta Punjab” was to mark the beginning of a more raw, authentic era indifferent to the guaranteed political backlash.
Ultimately, following this defiance in the name of outspokenness, Indian based cinema is heading towards a movement of creative freedom, challenging political restrictions for political correctness’ sake, and enabling a new platform for exposure of contemporary issues differing from the general romanticised depiction of India’s colourful singing population we viewers are so accustomed to.