Censors plan to back off on brazen Bollywood
Film official says it's time to take a more liberal approach to chops to keep up with the times
India's all-powerful censor board is planning a lighter approach to Bollywood after decades chopping tens of thousands of film scenes, from onscreen kisses to violent endings.
Set up by British rulers in the 1920s to block American movies with anti-colonial sentiment, the board went on to cut Indian films as much for their supposedly racy content as for their political overtones.
But as the country rapidly modernises, the government must walk the tightrope of catering to a more liberal, youthful India without angering still deeply conservative strands of society.
"The Indian value system has changed, hence censor rules must change," admitted R. Singh, joint secretary of the film department in New Delhi.
The government attempted to show its more open-minded approach at the recent "Cut-Uncut" festival in the capital, which screened originally censored film clips for the first time as part of Indian cinema's centenary celebrations.
Directors such as Ramesh Sippy, who made the Hindi action blockbuster Sholay (Embers) in 1975, also had the chance to vent their anger at censorship culture.
Sippy said he was forced to change his film's plotline at the insistence of the censors, who decided it was too violent.
"The board said: 'We will tell you how to end the movie', and I was forced to shoot the ending again."
K. Hariharan, a critically acclaimed filmmaker, said he felt like "an anxious student waiting for his performance card" whenever censors watched his film.
"This whole business of brutally chopping scenes or forcing the filmmakers to alter the climax will have to end," said Singh, who oversees the task of issuing certificates to all Indian movies.
Censors admit that regulating content is becoming an unwieldy job in a country of 1.2 billion. In the past two decades, the country has gone from having two just state-run channels to nearly 400 private ones, and filmmakers are increasingly keen to get their work on the small screen to generate more revenue.
But as censor board chief Pankaja Thakur points out, they run a greater risk of being chopped on television.
In April last year The Dirty Picture, a popular film about the life of a 1980s Indian soft-porn star, was stopped hours before its television premiere after two court petitions objected to its content. It took 60 cuts before it was allowed on to the screen.
"Television is a much more mass medium than the movie halls, so we have to ensure that content on TV is suitable," Thakur said.