India/Pakistan: Films continue to fall victim to threats and censorship

24 February 2017
India’s Central Board of Film Certification has refused to certify film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, which revolves around the stories of four women.
Photo: Section of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ poster

India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has refused to certify film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, which revolves around the stories of four women, reported Hindustan Times on 23 February 2017.

The CBFC stated the reason for the denial was that: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines [sic].”

The film’s director Alankrita Shrivastava called the CBFC’s actions an “assault on women’s rights” and said she would fight for her film to be released in the country.

Shrivastava said in a statement:

I believe the decision to refuse certification to our film is an assault on women’s rights. For too long the popular narrative has perpetuated patriarchy by objectifying women or minimising their role in a narrative. So a film like ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, that challenges that dominant narrative is being attacked because it presents a female point of view. Do women not have the right of freedom of expression?

The film has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

CBFC’s letter posted by Alankrita Shrivastava on her Twitter on 23 February 2017.


Section of ‘Raees’ poster

Far-right political party threatens film distributors
In January 2017, the Chhattisgarh wing in central India of far-right political party Shiv Sena sent a letter to film distributors warning them of “dire consequences” if they go ahead with the release of action crime thriller ‘Raess’, reported The Times of India on 29 January 2017.

Leading film distributor Akshaye Rathi took to Twitter, posted a photo of the letter and addressed the tweet to Aaditya Thackeray, the leader of the youth wing of the political party and son of the of the party’s leader.

Rathi told The Indian Express on 11 January 2017 that all distributors in Chhattisgarh state received the letter.

“It’s illegal to say that you will stall a film that has been certified by the CBFC for release. Also something needs to be done about this threat letter. We have informed the police about it,” Rathi said.

The film had first had some controversy in late 2016 for having a Pakistani actress in the cast. At the time, India banned Pakistani actors and technicians from working on Indian films as a response to deadly attacks over Kashmir in September 2016.

Copy of the Shiv Sena letter posted by Akshaye Rathi on his Twitter account on 10 January 2017.


Bollywood film banned in Pakistan

However, in Pakistan, ‘Raees’ suffered more than threats, it was outright banned by Pakistan’s CBFC, reported BBC on 7 February 2017.

Though the CBFC did not give an official statement on the ban, an official told BBC that one reason for the ban was that the film “depicts Muslims as criminals and terrorists” and that some scenes were “offensive to a particular sect”.


Hollywood film suffers cuts in India
India’s CBFC made several cuts to Vin Diesel’s latest action film ‘xXx: The Return of Xander Cage’, including the removal of a suggestive bedroom scene that involves no nudity, the removal of particular swear words, including the word “baller”, and the removal of a scene where a woman is pouring liquor, reported Hindustan Times on 21 January 2017.

The last cut in particular has drawn controversy as the scene in question does not have a woman pouring alcohol, but rather cranberry juice and club soda. Additionally, the film makes it clear that its main character does not drink.


CBFC’s cuts and edits to Vin Diesel’s film.


Friends of Linger Facebook photo


Censor board overturns decision on music video
On 25 January 2017, India’s Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) overruled the CBFC’s directive to cut ten seconds from Friends of Linger’s music video ‘Miss You’, the band’s frontman Sharif Ranganekar wrote in The Wire on 30 January 2017.

The CBFC’s cut involved a ten-second scene they called “intimate” where two men are on a bed in shorts, though not engaging in any sexual activities, reported LGBTQ Nation on 3 February 2017.

The board gave the video an “A certificate”, meaning that it couldn’t be aired on television, but the FCAT revoked the certificate, calling the scene in question “intrinsic” to the story being told in the music video.

Ranganekar said the FCAT decision “in effect turned this tiny song into a moment that could be viewed as a shift in acceptance of ‘gay’ content in mainstream television”, explaining:

However small the shift might be, it could well be an indication of something bigger that many LGBTQs are hoping for. If we place this against the backdrop of hostility, hate, right-wing politics and the patiently-awaited Supreme Court verdict, the FCAT’s conclusion to overturn a CBFC order is not very small. It could be a precedent, a filmmaker out of Mumbai told me. Some gay activists felt the occasion should be celebrated and the song performed at gay parties.

The band’s frontman said he had to wait for four months for the appeal, but once it came for FCAT to review the video, the whole process took ten minutes.

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