Countering CBFC chief's claims

Sharmila Tagore, the head of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has argued that Indian films belittle women (read here). Commenting on the refusal to certify Closer for its “wordy sex talk”. Her reasons?

Indian audiences — especially those outside the big metropolises, who are typically more conservative, less educated and, she says, less “media-literate”.

Since she is the chairperson of the CBFC, a government body, it can be safely deduced that this is the official position of the government. And she is arguing for media effects. What is interesting is that these views are no different from the BJP government and its moral and cultural lessons under the venerable Sushma Swaraj.

As I have argued earlier, to say that films influence perceptions is one thing – but to directly find a correlation between film representation and audience behaviour is stretching credibility. It is instructive to note that the cinematic representation is equated as being representative of the public sphere, which it is not. Thus, the imaginary Indian audience and its sensibilities is invoked as if it were a material fact. It is argued that there is cultural non-correspondence between what is shown in films “unreal” vs the “reality” of audience not agreeing with the same. However, the cultural correspondence of the caste system (which is real) is not allowed depiction in the films (leading to unreal representations of the citizen-subject). It is interesting how in both instances the logic of “public interest” is invoked to justify what will be allowed to pass through.

In this framework, the audience is neatly compartmentalised into urban and rural (“We cannot give a certificate only for the city of Bombay or the city of Calcutta. We have to give an all-India certificate.”) and both are inscribed with particular abilities to discern the contents of texts. While concerns about media effects is not new, every censor board chairperson misses a great opportunity to alter India’s repressive film censorship regime (with the exception of Vijay Anand).

Read BBC report about censorship in India.

Read Rakesh Sharma’s open letter to the minister for information and broadcasting.

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