Consumer Advice, Not Censorship

Censorship in America

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Sudhir Mishra

Sudhir Mishra

Source: Khaleej Times Online – By Ashish Sharma

Don’t walk into Sudhir Mishra’s film currently showing in a theatre near you unless you are prepared to suffer a relentless aural assault of the full spectrum of north Indian swear words. You must have heard all these words and phrases before, from people who don’t know better or who seek to vent their frustration, compensate for their limited vocabulary, add a dash of colour to their conversational skills, shock their listeners or express a general disdain for polite society and norms of civilised behaviour.

As a cinematic tool, such language can conceivably whip up some energy, even thrill, among the characters as well as at least a section of the audience. In some cases, as in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen for instance, it can even be an inevitable and integral element of the narrative. In lesser hands, though, it mostly serves as a thinly disguised ruse to concoct scenes and entire sequences.

Crudity in art has always had its apologists who have sought to justify, even applaud, it as realism. Mishra’s film, too, will find its takers. At the same time, many others among the audience will feel violated. The merit of the work notwithstanding, though, this film, like others of its kind, screams for a more responsible role for those tasked with certifying material, including films, meant for public screening. In the age of the Internet, censorship is not quite the answer. In fact, censorship can often prove counter-productive, as filmmakers find to their glee when they are engaged in well-publicised run-ins with the censor boards. Comprehensive certification is the solution. There is an essential difference between censorship and comprehensive certification. While censorship leans on the filmmakers in a bid to make them conform, comprehensive certification merely seeks to empower the prospective audience by making it more informed. So, while the first seeks to curtail the artistic rights of the manufacturer, the second merely recognises and upholds the rights of the consumer. It is quite like labelling non-vegetarian eatables red to discourage vegetarians in a supermarket to pick them up by mistake. And since vegetarians don’t form a homogenous group either, it is also important to spell out the ingredients. The system works to the advantage of the manufacturers and non-vegetarians as well. Everybody’s rights are 
adequately protected.

Much the same can be done in the case of films. Since it is difficult to predict what anybody can find offensive, it is best to go in for comprehensive advice on the contents for prospective consumers.

Sample these comments on a few recent films: Contains mild language, violence and racist language; contains very strong language and scenes of torture; contains strong sadistic violence and gore; contains strong supernatural horror and disturbing images; contains strong language, sex references and bloody images; contains scary scenes, natural nudity and mild sex references; contains strong images of real sex, or fetish material, intended for sexual stimulation.

The British Board of Film Classification issued these accompanying comments under the head “Consumer Advice”, besides assigning categories, ranging from U (universal – suitable for all) to R18 (to be shown only in specially licensed cinemas, or supplied only in licensed shops).

This system may have its share of critics as well but it is a huge improvement on its antiquated Indian counterpart, which cannot hope to question any film without giving it free publicity and gifting it at least a decent opening. It is India moved on. Bring down the curtain on censorship, except in extremely rare cases; usher in consumer advice for all.

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4 comments on “Consumer Advice, Not Censorship
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