Censorship Schizophrenia UnLtd

13 Jul,2018


By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s been exactly a week since Netflix put up the eight-part series Sacred Games, their first serious attempt to build their presence in the Indian market. The series has since received largely positive, even glowing, reviews. Based on Vikram Chandra’s book, Sacred Games is being touted as that the watershed internet show in the short but unremarkable history of “web-series” in India.


I’m only halfway through the series yet, savoring it at the rate of an episode a day. What immediately strikes you when you watch Sacred Games is the unbridled use of language and visuals to tell the story the makers want to. Profanities, nudity and violence are used in a very matter-of-fact manner, never quite seeming forced, and never making a fuss about their presence in the series.


It’s par for the course as far as American television is concerned. But in the Indian context, the contrast vis-à-vis rest of the entertainment landscape is striking, to say the least. You can feel that the writers and the makers would have felt a sense of liberation, for being able to say and show what mainstream cinema, let alone television, will ever allow them to.


Take, for example, the two-three passing comments Ganesh Gaitonde’s character (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) makes about the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Or the one mention of the vasectomy drive during the emergency. They shock us, pleasantly so, as we applaud how the makers have dared to say it their way. Some of these lines have already stirred a storm, but the Congress will be too limited in its power to pursue their case much. They would rather let it die down on its own.


Netflix is a part of the large and ever-growing internet ecosystem, and there is no censorship the Indian government has come up, so far anyway, for this medium. The idea of the internet does not lend itself to censorship conceptually, and if someone important in the government woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and decided to implement content regulation in this space, it would be lead to chaos of the unmitigated variety.


Sacred Games is rated 16+ and it warns you about the use of bad language, nudity, sex and violence before you start watching it. The same 16+ audiences who have watched Sacred Games had to wait for two months to watch an innocuous film called Padmavati, till the censors forced the makers to change its name and make other “important” changes like covering the queen’s torso in a dance sequence. And yet, that film could not be watched legally in three states of India till it was available on Amazon Prime about three months later.


For years now, the entertainment business has demanded that we move to a rating system like the West, where government bodies can only decide the minimum age below which a film cannot be watched. It’s a proven method that has been known to have worked across media. It is also a lot more logical and objective, and hence, easier to implement.


But from pulling TV channels off-air for one day for use of abusive language or nudity (nowhere close to the level seen in Sacred Games) to trying to mess with routine dialogues in a film to not being to do anything at all related to the Internet content, our governing authorities seem to enjoy their schizophrenia.


The more you try and mess with art, the more ways art will find to get back to you. Sacred Games is that middle finger those censoring films and TV do not want to see. But it stares them in their face anyway.



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