Shailesh Kapoor: The AIB & MSG controversies: Symptoms of a Larger Malice?

06 Feb,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The mass resignation at the Censor Board, after the film MSG was cleared by the appellate tribunal in a hurry, set the tone for what was to follow. There was a bizarre little news on the word “Bombay” being beeped out in a music video. And now, the AIB controversy over the Ranveer-Arjun ‘roast’ has firmly set the agenda for 2015 – it’s going to be a chaotic year for entertainment content regulation and censorship.

 

The AIB controversy, eventually leading to the comedy group pulling off the videos off their YouTube channel, has triggered off a lot of discussion, especially on the social media. The slant of most opinions expressed is around the idea of freedom of speech. A few who have spoken against AIB have centered their argument on the extreme use of profanity in the videos.

 

Unfortunately, most such opinions come across as rants, which serve little purpose in the real world, because in reality, the subject of regulation, censorship and moral policing is far more complex than how it’s often positioned in the media.

 

The central piece of this complexity is the structure of the regulatory mechanism, where separate laws or guidelines control different media. The film certification board (CBFC) has been liberal in granting ‘A’ certificates to a wide range of films that have pushed the envelope on language, graphic violence and adult video content. But the same content has to be censored again for home video and satellite, since those are technically different media.

 

The audience may be the same, but the context of viewing, not the audience or the content, seems to be dictating what can be seen on a TV at home. The same TV channel, when streamed over the Internet, can still screen only the content that has passed the TV guidelines. But the ‘uncensored’ version of the same content is available on the Internet anyway.

 

Then we have cases of Hollywood filmmakers refusing to release their films in India with censor cuts, and the anti-smoking warning to distract the audience every time a character smokes on screen, sometimes for less than a second!

 

In this trigger-happy environment, where everyone has a view and all guidelines comes with their bagful of loopholes, we see ad hoc decisions being taken by all sides. TV channels are known to blur cleavage shots in foreign content, the kinds of which would be routine in a U/A censored Hindi movie. In the subtitles, there is a mass sanitisation of the language, and even words like beef are removed. No one wants to face the wrath of the moral police or a government body. After all, channels have been pulled off air for violating these vaguely-defined norms.

 

This week, I figured that there is another set of guidelines for stage performances. Apparently, you can’t perform anything impromptu, because you need to submit a script for approval. It also turns out that there is no staff to read the script, but if there’s a controversy later, they do have a staff to match the script vis-à-vis the actual content, and pick holes.

 

Essentially, if the AIB Roast had not made it to YouTube, all would have fine. Yet, the regulatory concern is about the stage show part of it, not the internet broadcast.  Internet remains the elephant in the room no one wants to address.

 

As technology permeates our vast country, the prevailing confusion will continue to multiply. We may be in for a lot more randomness in the coming months and years. Like always, the entertainment industry tends to be at the receiving end, often the soft targets of the moral police for quick publicity. But there’s little doubt in my mind that our ambiguous regulatory norms fuel this moral police.

 

There are no easy answers, except to say that what’s required is an overhaul, not a tweak. And no, this is not a discussion on ‘freedom of speech’, but one on ‘freedom from obsolescence’.

 

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