The American Motion Pictures Association has the following ratings for movies: G - General Audiences. All ages admitted, PG – Parental Guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. PG-13 - Parents Strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. NC-17. No one under 17 is admitted.
The Indian Censor Board is less nuanced and awards only three certificates for films—U for Universal exhibition, U/A where children below 12 have to be accompanied by adults , A which restricts exhibition of the movie only to adults. (There is also a rating called S, but that is for particular groups like doctors).
The recent release, Delhi Belly which is enjoyable, but full of cuss words, adult allusions and sexual jokes has rightly been given an A certificate. No quarrel with that. But, when we watched the movie in Wave cinema in Noida, I was puzzled to see several children below 12 for a late night show, accompanying their parents, as if it was Jungle Book that was being screened. Behind me was a pop corn munching eight- or nine-year-old boy with his younger sibling. A couple of rows ahead, balancing her nachos, was a little girl, no more than five. I don’t know how many teenagers were there because they are harder to spot, but there were enough kids below 12 to get any level headed adult- one doesn t even need to be a parent- worried. Like Diptakirti Chaudhuri, a marketing professional in a media company, was when he heard a four year old behind him asking for the “Bhag Bhag” song in the same movie, which he watched in SRS Cinema, Sohna Road, Gurgaon. Here too, several kids comprised the audience which makes Chaudhuri wonder exactly what their parents are thinking.
“If it is a desperation to catch the movie despite having no baby sitter, it is highly irresponsible and short sighted, since the film is likely to come on DVD or TV very soon,” he says. If it is a belief that watching adult movies will have no impact on children as they will not really understand, they are just delusional.
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To quote just two of the many scientific studies on the subject—the American Journal of Preventive Medicine studied 1,200 kids in Massachusetts over a period of four years and found that those who watched R-rated movies were more likely to take up smoking. Another study conducted by the department of movie entertainment and psychology at Maine College University showed an increase in violent behavior in children (Age four and under) that were allowed to watch R-rated films.
As our own Supreme Court observed about the act of watching a movie “….The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Cinema cannot be equated with other modes of communication.” Can it be that these parents don’t know what the movie is all about? Chaudhuri points out how that’s impossible in today’s times because unlike the 1970s and ’80s when word of mouth was the main source of movie reviews, we are inundated with information about a new movie in all kinds of media.
So the first offense is by the parents of the minors who bring children to an adult certified movie.
But how do they get inside? Aren’t the children supposed to be denied entry by the theatre management? Theatres have a legal obligation to adhere to the certification rules. That’s how it was when we were young. The guard would take one look at the kid who was brought there by a parent who was unaware of the A certification, (that could be the only reason in those days!) and promptly turn them away. But coinciding with the advent of the multiplex, this seems to have changed. With an eye firmly on ticket sales anyone is admitted for anything. A few years ago, for the clearly “A” certified Race, screened in Spice Mall, Noida, there were a ridiculous number of kids, trying to keep track of the complex story of plotting brothers and switching love interests. So also for New York, where many kids were eating ice cream and watching John Abraham undergo third degree torture in an American jail.
In screening a film, theatre owners have to comply with the Cinematograph Act of 1952, under which “exhibiting an adult film to a non-adult” is a cognizable, non-bailable offense. Under section 7 of the Act, a person guilty of violation is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine which may extend to Rs1 lakh or both, and with a further fine up to Rs20,000 for each day for a continuing offense.
Violations can only be checked by surprise visits by a local police officer. But as the Censor Board itself says sensibly on its website www.cbfcindia.gov.in. “Quite clearly, the role of the police is an important part of checking violations, but being pre-occupied with so many other problems, it cannot play its role fully without the co-operation of the general public. This is where every viewer with societal commitment, concerned with the kind of entertainment he/she is getting, can act.”
This is true, and if it’s a question of priorities, we’d rather have them use their energies to sniff out terrorist threats than catch errant cinema hall owners. The Board advises that if anyone finds a theatre violating the certification, he can bring it to the attention of the police and register a first information report under section 7 of the 1952 Act. If that’s too much trouble, the website allows citizens to submit a complaint by clicking the “Be Vigilant” tab. That’s the least one can do in the interests of India’s future citizens.
Illustration by Shyamal Banerjee/Mint
Vandana Vasudevan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and writes on mass urban consumer issues. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org