The Indian television industry hits out at Censor Board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani for his recent comments about exercising censorship on the small screen
Neha Maheshwri and Reza Noorani (BOMBAY TIMES; April 27, 2017)

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, has stirred up a hornet's nest by calling for censorship on television. He recently said that many TV shows, especially crime-based ones like Crime Patrol and Savdhaan India, are “crossing limits“ by showing the most gruesome and heinous crimes in graphic detail.

He added, “Why are filmmakers required to get a new censor certification for their films to be shown on television when the rest of the content made especially for television gets to go on air unchecked? This free flow of content in television must stop. It's affecting the natural psychological development of young minds. Parents are worried.“

Nihalani's statement has met with unanimous opposition from the television industry, which argues that there's already an effective mechanism of self-censorship in place. As actress Pooja Gor, who has also hosted a segment of Savdhaan India, observes, “For years now, TV content has been in tune with what is acceptable to family audiences. In fact, it's the only medium that is already producing filtered content because of its vast reach. And that's precisely why movies have to be certified before being telecast and not shows. As far as crime shows are concerned, the portrayal of incidents is very realistic. These gruesome and heinous crimes have happened in reality - women have been raped and brutal murders have happened. Restricting content on crime shows is not going to change reality. At least, the said shows are conveying a message of caution to the people.“

TV producers, too, echo Pooja's opinion. Producer Yash Patnaik, who shot a 'kissing scene' between the lead couple of his show Jana Na Dil Se Door, says that while Nihalani is entitled to his opinion, he can't generalise the medium.

Yash adds, “We are a free country and the audience has every right to decide what they want to watch. The TV fraternity is extremely responsible when compared to other mediums. Both producers and broadcasters follow the SNP (Standard Norm Practice) diligently. We don't air foul language, nudity and violence the way other mediums do. Just as censorship is expected on what we show, there also needs to be restraint on what we talk on public forums. It's extremely irresponsible of anyone to generalise the medium and degrade it. Let's have some respect and dignity.“

Sudhir Sharma, who has produced shows like Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha and Baawre, adds, “There is already a lot of pressure on us. We are answerable to our broadcasters and viewers. If another body jumps in to dictate terms, that will be the end of creative freedom on television. We don't need more advice on how to make shows and which lines to not overstep.“

Now, the question arises that despite makers being conscious about the content they dish out on the small screen, is there a body regulating it? Every broadcaster has an SNP team keeping a close tab on the content airing on their respective channels. The makers are expected to adhere to the norms and regulations set by these teams. Director-turned-producer Ravindra Gautam, whose show Meri Durga is currently on air, informs, “TV content is monitored by the channel's SNP team, which makes sure that it adheres to all the self-regulatory content guidelines laid down by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF). Any complaint regarding the content can be made to the Broadcast Content Complaint Council (BCCC).“

Ravindra says, “TV should get as bold as society. However, ironically, we are still in the 70s' saas-bahu zone. That's the reason the medium finds it difficult to resonate with the youth. That's also the reason why web series are attracting more youngsters. Bold doesn't just mean sex; it's also about the mindset. We live in an era when we are abhorred for showing a consummation scene after marriage. An actress fears such a scene could be the death knell for her career. In fact, TV needs to get bolder or it will seem regressive. We need to introspect why the youth is more hooked on to the internet and web series. That's because we don't explore unconventional content on TV. The government and the channels should be supportive.“

Actor Ronit Roy, who has dabbled in both films and TV , says that he believes censorship begins at home. He says, “I don't know about other people's houses. but in my home, we guide our children on what to watch and what not to. Anyway, the bold shows, which have adult content, like Bigg Boss, are broadcast after that time. And in my opinion, it is right because children should be asleep by that time.“

In the past, there have been several instances of broadcasters being summoned by the BCCC for going bold. A representative of the channel is summoned by the body to address and answer viewers' complaints and queries regarding the content. Producer Vikas Gupta says, “I had shot a kiss between two members of the same sex, but the channel didn't approve of it. They were of the opinion that it might get into a legal wrangle and also hurt sentiments of the audience.“

He adds, “Yes, we do produce risqué content, but that's aired after 10 pm when kids are asleep. I wouldn't know why Mr Nihalani has made a statement like that, because we already have a strong censorship system in place. We are answerable to our broadcasters and there are strict rules in place. Unlike movies, where a Befikre can have several kisses but a James Bond film can't, the rules are uniform on television. Also, we run tickers when such shows are aired, so that people can share their opinion with us. TV doesn't need another body interfering with what we show. It doesn't need to be censored anymore than it already is.“

Nihalani's major grievance is with crime-based shows airing on TV currently. He said, “Television soaps, reality shows and crime shows are crossing all limits. Shows like Crime Patrol and Savdhaan India show the most gruesome and heinous crimes in graphic detail. Real-life people are named in the fictional recreation of crime stories. Women are raped in incestuous attacks, housewives and minor girls are shown to be violated. If the same content was shown in any film, we at the CBFC, would have to clamp down heavily on the content.“

Annup Sonii, who hosts Crime Patrol, rebukes this claim and says, “The medium follows certain thumb rules while making the content. I can vouch that the team of the show has never crossed the line. Even the graphic details are mostly symbolic. This is something that's happening around us. The motive behind recreating these incidents is to inform people that crime is not a solution. Ramayan mein agar Ravan nahi dikhaayenge toh Ram ki achhai ka kaise pata chalega? Also, censorship is equally vested in the hands of viewers, who, if offended by any content, can stop watching it. That will be signal enough for the broadcaster and the channel to pull up their socks and look into what they are dishing out. We are anyway adhering to strong censorship values and don't need another body intervening in our creativity.“

Sushant Singh, the host of Savdhaan India, adds, “I would like to say that the age of censorship is over. It's a lost battle.What next? Ban the internet? What we show on these shows is the harsh reality - minors getting raped, crimes being committed by close relatives... We can't turn a blind eye to something that's happening around us. Will clamping down the portrayal bring down these incidents? On the contrary, a number of victims have gathered courage to report about the injustice done to them due to the message that our show conveys. The only way to curb crime is by raising your voice and fighting back.“

In response to Nihalani's comment on censoring TV content, Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi, who is part of BCCC, says, “At present, there is a BCCC board that addresses the complaints made by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry and public. It has members from within the industry and fields of social science, including representatives from women's, minorities' and children's commissions headed by Justice Mudgal. I have been on board since its inception and know how it works well. It comprises a liberal and sensitive group of people and there has always been complete compliance from the con tent team whenever the BCCC has objected to something. The council has held interactive workshops with creative teams in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata to sensitise them and hear their compulsions. It works well and should continue. There is no need for further censorship.“

Actor Ram Kapoor, who generated quite a buzz following a kissing sequence with his co-actor Sakshi Tanwar on the TV show Bade Acche Laggte Hain five years ago, says, “I am baffled by this man's statement. What is he talking about? Doesn't he know that TV is censored anyway? I am currently doing a web series and I've never experienced this kind of creative freedom on TV. We ponder over everything multiple times before airing it on the small screen because it's viewed by families. It's morally right to restrict the content on TV and channels are aware of the norms that they need to follow. If there is any decline in the viewership owing to offensive content, it would mean decreased ratings and no channel would want that. Forget risqué content, a kiss between Sakshi and me created such an uproar; that should be enough for Nihalani to know that TV follows stringent guidelines. We can't afford to hurt people.“