New Delhi: Director Hansal Mehta’s controversial biographical drama Aligarh found its way to the small screen earlier last month. The film, based on the real life story of Aligarh Muslim University professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, however, was not just edited for swear words and scenes of intimacy but also not allowed to retain any references to the basic theme of homosexuality itself.
The cuts and changes ensured that the previously “A" rated movie, starring Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao, was granted a “U/A" rating for television.
To be sure, though, a film like Aligarh that receives an “A" certificate (restricted to adult audiences) from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for theatrical release cannot go to satellite channels unless it re-applies and is granted either a “U" (unrestricted public exhibition) or “U/A" (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of 12) certificate for television viewing. State-owned broadcaster Doordarshan, further, only accepts films with a “U" certificate.
“There is separate censorship (before a television premiere) for films which have been granted an “A" certificate for theatrical release. If you have a “U" or “U/A" certificate, you already have permission for home video and satellite," said a member of the censor board, who declined to be named.
The re-certification process has undergone its share of back-and-forth with the censor board. While it was done away with during former CBFC chairperson Leela Samson’s tenure, it was brought in again by current chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, the person said, in order to enable producers to exploit every avenue to recover their investment. The provision is still not officially part of the Cinematograph Act though. Further, there is little clarity on whether and how late-night slots work for these “A" rated films.
The rules to get the coveted “U" or “U/A" certificate are pretty simple though.
“The rules are the same as those that we follow in order to grant a ‘U’ or ‘U/A’ certificate for theatrical release—no cuss words, violence against women or vulgarity. And for a previously ‘A’ rated film to be given a ‘U’ or ‘U/A’ certificate, it has to be watched from scratch with a new perspective," said the person mentioned above, adding that the reason for this was the all-pervasive reach of television. The person declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to media.
“If we grant an ‘A’ certificate for the theatrical release of a film, it’s clearly restricted to mature audiences. But when it comes to satellite, you have no control over who is watching the content. We have to take into consideration that even a 10- or 12-year-old child could be watching it," the person said.
The battle, however, is waged by not just adult films like Aligarh, Kya Kool Hain Hum 3, Mastizaade or Great Grand Masti, the last of which was denied a satellite certificate entirely, even after it approached the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a revising committee, with its case.
A cursory viewing of “U" or U/A" rated films on television may frequently throw up awkward jumps and cuts too. Yash Raj Films’s popular romantic comedy Band Baaja Baraat, for instance, has a kissing and lovemaking scene removed while Karan Johar’s young romantic drama Student of the Year has a shot of the middle finger blurred. Climactic kisses in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met and YRF’s National Award-winning film Dum Laga Ke Haisha have been chopped off. Considering none of these are “A" rated films that needed re-certification or censoring for television, it is clear that the individual channel showcasing the film is free to take its call as well.
“We have an internal standard and practices team (also known as the content regulation team) which exercises its discretion and cuts down unsuitable content, usually elements which don’t go with the sensibility of our channel," said Raj Nayak, chief executive officer, Hindi Mass Entertainment, at Viacom18 that owns television channels including Colors, Rishtey and Rishtey Cineplex. Nayak added that they do not air any content that is “A" rated. Only “U" and “U/A" certified films are televised on their network.
“Self-censorship (by television channels) normally has no limits in that sense. It goes beyond what the state needs or wants you to do. Everyone is doing their own thing in their own weird way and it’s like you ask them to bend, and they’ll crawl," said Navdeep Singh, director of last year’s Anushka Sharma-starrer NH10. He hasn’t watched the television cut of his own film because he says it would just be too disheartening.
“They have to cater to family audiences and there’s the whole thing about how people can call and complain about content on TV. So everyone wants to play it as safe as possible since no one’s going to call in and say they didn’t like the abrupt cuts," Singh said.
To be sure though, there are reasons why filmmakers accept such tampering of content, often a second time after the theatrical ordeal. And it has nothing to do with the vibrancy of the satellite market. On 15 January 2016, Mint reported that rates for acquiring satellite rights of Hindi films had gone down by nearly 40% in the past year. Cable and satellite rights contributed ₹ 15,900 crore out of the total ₹ 13,820 crore that the Indian film industry made in 2015, according to the Ficci-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2016.
“The satellite market is at its all-time low right now. Two or three years ago, if you’d get Rs.10-15 crore for a decent-sized film, now it might not fetch more than Rs.2-3 crore," said the person mentioned above. “But it’s still good money. Why would you want to even lose that? If you delay it further, you might not get that much in another six months or a year. With satellite rights, the more you delay, the more loss you make."
Till about a year ago, the person said, filmmaker Suneel Darshan was being offered ₹ 125 crore for his unsold film library. Darshan, who didn’t bite the bait, finally ended up striking a deal with media content house Shemaroo for ₹ 70 crore later, incurring a loss of more than ₹ 50 crore.
And yet, it’s not just about the money.
As Singh put it, “I think it’s a question of how much power one has. It’s the producer’s prerogative whom the film is sold to and what the terms and conditions of the sale are. For filmmakers to put their foot down, you have to firstly be really powerful, and then have to have deep pockets in terms of taking that financial hit of not putting it (the film) out there."