New Delhi: Late last month, the makers of Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao-starrer Judgementall Hai Kya decided to revise their film’s title. Earlier named Mental Hai Kya, the movie had drawn flak from the Indian Medical Association (IMA), along with the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) and actor Deepika Padukone’s The Live Love Laugh Foundation for playing on a sensitive issue like mental health.
Judgementall Hai Kya is the 11th film in the last 10 years to have had to change its title due to religious, political or social pressure. The list includes recent offerings like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama Padmaavat that was earlier titled Padmavati and was opposed by the Karni Sena for depicting Rajputs in an unfavourable light and Salman Khan’s production Loveyatri that was named Loveratri and had the right-wing organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) irked by what seemed to distort the meaning of the Hindu festival, Navratri. Also part of the list are Shoojit Sarkar’s Madras Café, set during the time of Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war and assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, previously titled Jaffna and Shah Rukh Khan’s production Billu, earlier called Billu Barber, a word that beauty and parlour associations of Mumbai found derogatory.
“Films can be soft targets for political parties or those representing them in order to make a noise," said Siddharth Singh, co-writer of Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, originally titled Ram Leela that courted controversy because of the association with Hindu deity Ram. Singh revealed that for the first 10 days, Ram Leela was released and had run without a title in Uttar Pradesh. Even when the team was shooting Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, another film that Singh co-wrote, there was political pressure to not talk about the absence of toilets in Madhya Pradesh, the shoot location.
“I think we need to develop a sense of humour about these things, otherwise creative freedom gets disrupted. Films need to be seen as a source of entertainment and not taken so seriously," Singh added.
Film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar agreed there are several pressures to deal with in a large country like India and it is often important to keep several factions happy.
“I think with the emergence of over-the-top streaming platforms, we are moving to a mature pattern of content consumption where such things should die down slowly," Johar added.
To be sure, four out of the 10 films mentioned above, made profits after the controversies they courted. These range from ₹67 crore for Padmaavat to ₹8 crore for Madras Café. But industry experts are divided on whether the noise acts as an advantage for the film.
“I don’t think these things make any difference to the audience. While sometimes they can just be a marketing tool, nobody really cares if a film is called mental or judgmental," Johar said.