No consensus on sex, violence and censorship in Bollywood

May 2, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Getting directors, producers and activists into a room to figure out Indian cinema’s connection to violence toward women, rape and crudeness in society can be like a family gathering. People shout, get angry and fail to solve fundamental problems because they can’t agree on anything.

The Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi recently presented the latest forum for the debate. India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held a six-day festival there to celebrate 100 years of moviemaking, and there was little agreement on how much responsibility Bollywood and the film industry bear for the poor attitude toward women that many people evince. It was perhaps a more pressing discussion than usual, given the name of the three-day workshop, “Cut-Uncut,” which dealt with official censorship in India, the role of sex and violence in movies and the influence of films on society.

To be fair, it’s a question with no apparent answers. Indian films are wildly popular. Storylines and songs become part of the thread of everyday life in a way that’s different than nearly everywhere else in the world. They also reflect a strange prudishness when it comes to love scenes with dance numbers as a substitute – strange because the dance numbers can seem infinitely more erotic than any kiss on the lips or lovemaking scene that they’re supposed to be representing.

Then there is the premise, debated for years in the United States by the music and movie worlds, that these images and the attitudes behind them in cinema reinforce a mindset toward women that brought us horrific stories in the past several months such as the Delhi gang rape and the rape of a Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh. Verdict? No answer.

“You want to tell me that rapes are happening in the society because of item numbers? Are you kidding me?” said Luv Ranjan, the director of “Pyaar ka Punchnama” (2011), speaking on day two of the workshop. “Helen was doing item numbers 40 years back. No one was talking about it then.”

Ranjan’s comment highlighted one of the common themes: you cannot connect “item numbers” featuring lightly clad women dancing provocatively and singing saucy lyrics to an impulse to rape or to take sexual advantage of women perceived as “loose.” To censor art as a result is to destroy artistic freedom and vision.

Another argument: women do not need to be treated as property or hidden away lest men lose their control to their lustful passions.

“Stop your men. Don’t just cover your women. There’s a bigger problem with the mentality of the men in this country,” said Ekta Kapoor, who co-produced “The Dirty Picture” (2011), speaking on day two. The controversial National Award winning film about the late, legendary softcore pornography actress Silk Smitha, took 59 cuts before the censor board allowed it to show on Indian television. (See this Washington Post write-up on the presentation of a montage at the workshop of scenes cut from movies because of sexual behaviour and violence)

K. Hariharan, a National Award winning director, said on the first day of the workshop that cinema is not a source of decadence. “Cinema informs. It doesn’t tell you to do this or that. Are we teaching you how to be criminals? Come on! Nobody watches movies for a manual on how to do things.”

On the other side, there was Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, member of the National Commission for Women, arguing that cinema is a well spring of mass teaching through pop entertainment. Note the figures: Indians spent $1.7 billion in 2011 to buy 2.7 billion movie tickets, the highest number of tickets bought in the world, according to Focus 2012, a report on world film market trends.

Her example, cited at the discussion: the “Fevicol” song featuring actress Kareena Kapoor in the film “Dabangg 2,” which has roughly 8 million views on YouTube. The song features its fair share of shimmying, not to mention lyrics where the woman is described as “salty butter” and “chicken leg piece”. “Women are subjected to acid attack, murder and gang-rape,” Prabhavalkar said on day two. “There’s a definite thread which is linking to these songs.”

The Central Board of Film Certification, which invited Hariharan, wants filmmakers to restrain themselves and parents to teach their children about right and wrong. “No matter how much reality you show in films, it’s still difficult for people to accept it,” said Deepmala Mohun, formerly of the certification board, who spoke on day one’s session on gratuitous violence in films.

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It takes us longer to became the well behaved human beings, it’s long journey which is just started.

I my personal opinion respecting the women is the only solution to this problem. To achieve this goal as I said earlier this will take longer and longer time and there is no short cut to it.

Best regards

Mohammed Khalid

Posted by mohammedkhalid | Report as abusive

i am sorry to say that the article itself starts with a hint of biased view of that of the author.

this article tends to say that violence of a sort which i am uncomfortable to quote here, is a product of bollywood and the western culture.
first of all, those people who talk about data and surveys, forget to mention that till date 80% of the rape cases in US were filed by ladies against their husbands. to subtle???
our society teaches a middle class girl that her heaven is in the feet of her husband/future husband.

secondly if the women in bollywood are “immorally” dressed, that is their choice. if you think these so called “loose” ladies in bollywood are the problem, try tracking down their family backgrounds (google it).
90% of the models in 90’s were daughters of senior level govt. officers. so are/were these people idiots?

why is a girl suppose to wear salwar kameez and after marriage saree? what about the men? and first of all who made these rules?

as i have insisted earlier too, the problem is the mentality. a mentality which is supported by the politicians.
politicians who talk about culture, have more than half of their families in europe and US.

how can we close our eyes to standard of living of the female population of the developed nations in the name of our superior culture and traditions. such tradition is of what use which keeps a wife at the feet of her husband.

if immorally dressed actresses and models lure us to commit such heinous acts, we are no better than animals.

even worse, because we are animals with brains and have fingers to point at other for our own appalling acts.

Posted by dipakkumardas | Report as abusive

india is conservative state…n we as indian adopting western culture rapdily…due to western neo colonial agenda…they are fully brazen n open.. they run pornographic industry in the of freedom of choice n voice and wants human being uncover like animal..which is very counterproductive n detrimentle to our indian society…which leads people, rape n heinous act against innocents women.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive