Finally, the information and broadcasting ministry has shown some grit and made a proactive intervention to defer the premier of The Dirty Picture that was to have been shown on 22 April on Sony TV. The channel had been promoting the film and working on making it suitable for television viewing for almost two months. Cuts had been made that persuaded the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to change its adults-only ‘A’ rating to ‘UA’—a minimum requisite for television broadcast. (UA stands for “unrestricted public exhibition but with a word of caution that parental discretion (is) required for children below 12 years,” according to the CBFC website.)
The ministry’s intervention came in the form of advice contained in two letters to the channel. It sought a late-night broadcast of the modified version of the film instead of the scheduled screening at noon and at 8pm. In response, the channel suspended the broadcast. The ministry directive received much flak, especially from the film and broadcast industry as revenue and confidence took a direct hit.
Many issues were raised in the subsequent debate, among them the appropriateness of airing such a film during prime time.
The issue is not about morality or moral policing but about values promoted on popular television channels. Most parents face the challenging task of dealing with and explaining competing messages from various media, especially television. We also know that if a child really wants to know something in this digital age, it’s not difficult to access. I am sure many have already watched or downloaded the film. For curious young minds and for adults, the film is readily available on DVD and even through video-on-demand services on some broadcast platforms.
I also don’t see anything wrong in revenue being generated for an adult film by showing it on diverse platforms. On television, the added viewership generates advertising that is lucrative to both the film maker and the broadcaster. However, if the film is already for restricted viewing and on issues that are not of interest to general viewers, then why broadcast it on days and timings when children are watching?
The Cable Television Act and the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) self-regulatory content guidelines clearly lay down these principles.
The second issue raised was that a national award-winning film was being rejected for television broadcast. Vidya Balan got the best actress award for 2011 for her lead role in The Dirty Picture. The film also shared awards for make-up and costume design.
But just because the film received these awards doesn’t make it appropriate for general viewing. Besides, the ministry’s advice was not against the broadcast of the film but only to show it at a more appropriate time given the restrictive nature of its theme.
Another condemnation of the industry was related to the unexpected intervention of the ministry, especially since it has been proactively engaged in promoting self-regulation. It is not uncommon for channels to get away with content violations. For example, in March, television channels committed 598 violations by not showing the mandatory CBFC certification as per the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre. IBF has received 69 complaints against movies shown on television from June 2011 to February 2012.
Most general television viewers are subject to such brashness across channels and programmes when it comes to foreign films or local reality and comedy shows and even daily soaps.
Other than general advisories to television channels and their industry bodies, the ministry has sent some orders or warnings to private television channels for gross violations of programme and advertising codes. In the absence of an independent regulatory body for television content, the ministry is responsible for overseeing any infringements.
To check any violations that affect public well-being through the mass medium of television is also its job.
In this case, whatever the compulsions the ministry may have had in taking this action, it has set a much-needed precedent and revived the confidence of television viewers who would like to see some control over what is shown. I must admit though that there are many who were aggrieved because they couldn’t see the movie on television. But I am sure that, like me, they will wait to watch this film on television—even late in the night.
Irrespective of who was responsible for this debacle, at least some action was taken before, and not after, the action—as is being currently practised in the name of self regulation.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS). She is a researcher and adviser on policy issues in broadcasting.
Also Read | PN Vasanti’s earlier columns