One of the salutary effects of reading entertainment industry trade publications is that every time I get depressed about our abilities to have serious conversations about major issues in American entertainment, I get a very specific reminder of the fact that things are much, much worse elsewhere. Today’s reminder comes from India, where the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has shut down the broadcast of a movie called The Dirty Picture. While the title might suggest otherwise, this isn’t like the Scary Movie franchise (though such a thing would be pretty entertaining to watch). Instead, it’s a biopic about Indian actress Silk Smitha. And specifically, it’s about the fact that Smitha was typecast into what, by Indian standards, counts as soft-core pornography even though she garnered critical acclaim for more straightforward work. And the televised broadcast of the movie’s been shut down precisely for its exploration of themes like typecasting and the way women can get trapped in their looks:
While The Dirty Picture does not show any graphic nudity, the film had run into controversies even before its theatrical release for its bold portrayal of a struggling starlet making it big as a sex symbol. Last week, a lawyer from the central Indian town of Nagpur filed a court order seeking a ban on the film’s telecast since it “contained obscene shots.” But the High Court cleared SET to go ahead with the screening after the I&B Ministry and the Central Board of Film Certification stated that the film had been re-edited with over 50 cuts.
“Whatever is shown on TV – whether it is a film, a serial or a commercial – has to be as per the program code of the Cable Television Network Regulation Act. As per the code, films that have U/A rating can be shown on TV… Some films have adult themes and the treatment and public perception is such that even after making many cuts the film retains its mature theme,” CBFC CEO Pankaja Thakur told a newspaper defending the government’s directive to reschedule the film after 11 p.m.. But Thakur also added that the incident will force the CBFC “to look at the whole process of cutting an adult film to make it suitable to be watched by children.”
I should note that The Dirty Picture did get theatrical play, and its director, Milan Luthria, has pointed out that it’s ridiculous that an extremely edited version of the movie, which would have aired at night and with significant notices of its rating, can live in theaters but is barred from broadcast. It’s a reminder that what counts as brave and what counts as difficult discussions aren’t the same everywhere. We take for granted a lot of what we can depict and what we can discuss.