My mother's most haunting nightmare in the '90s was one in which one of us -- a nine- or ten-year-old me or my younger brother -- gets caught singing 'Mala D ghar aya, O Ramji' in public. This particular song ranked much higher than humming 'Tu cheez badi hai mast mast' or using cuss words like 'saala', in the list of activities that children were banned from. Why? Because this parody of the popular Hindi chartbuster, 'Mera piya ghar aya', was created by the government to promote Mala D -- an affordable contraceptive pill -- on Doordarshan. And while science has no proof of it yet, children mouthing the name of a contraceptive could spark any number of catastrophes, like the sky falling down and neighbours questioning our sanskaar.
Children mouthing the name of a contraceptive could spark any number of catastrophes, like the sky falling down and neighbours questioning our sanskaar.
Did we ask our parents what Mala D was after watching the ad? Of course, we did. Did we get answers? Of course, we did. They ranged from 'shut up' and 'do your homework' to 'go practice mental math' and 'no TV for you'. 'It's a pill women can have if they don't want a baby', said no adult ever. Neither then, nor ten years later, when our parents were secretly fretting we may be sexually active, or ten more years later, when they trusted in divine intervention to have us familiarised with 'that stuff'.
Some of us got lucky, some of us didn't. When stories of friends in high school or college using pills with zero knowledge and consequently falling sick surfaced, we rolled our eyes and shook our heads and lamented, "She can't tell her parents also naa..." Only, they should have been able to. Like our parents should have been able to find a way to explain sex or sexuality to us.
So when the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) announced over the weekend that it won't let Sony air The Danish Girl -- an Oscar-winning film starring Eddie Redmayne -- it was rather amusing. A CBFC member told the Mumbai Mirror on condition of anonymity, "The whole subject is controversial, and it's unsuitable to be viewed by children. It talks about a man who wants a sex change and has a genital operation to become a woman. The subject is sensitive and how do you edit a subject like that?"
Ironically, the same board has cleared the film for screening in theatres without any cuts.
What the CBFC member hastily dismissed as a complex subject 'unsuitable' for children is actually a lived reality for hundreds of trans men and women.
Tom Hooper's critically acclaimed film addresses the subject of a man coming to terms with his sexuality and his gender -- he transitions into a woman through the course of the film. What the CBFC member hastily dismissed as a complex subject 'unsuitable' for children is actually a lived reality for hundreds of trans men and women, some of whose struggle with their identity begin right at childhood. So the CBFC's opinion that the subject matter is unsuitable for children is naive at best and ignorant at worst.
That apart, for a child to grow up to be an intelligent and informed adult, he or she needs to be able to accept and empathise with sexualities and genders besides the ones deemed as 'normal' by our largely patriarchal, traditional society. Will a child ask questions after watching a film The Danish Girl? Of course, he or she will. Which is where the parents are presented with the opportunity to apprise their children of stereotypes and the flawed concept of the 'normal' in our society.
That apart, it's almost as if the CBFC is parenting every Indian child on behalf of their parents, completely dismissive of the fact that the latter decides what is good for their children. If The Danish Girl offends them, they have a choice to not let children watch it. Thank god for the internet, the CBFC's over-zealous babysitting can be stymied a little, if not stopped completely.
It's almost ironic how the CBFC doesn't find other vernacular content on TV channels unsuitable for children.
That said, it's almost ironic how the CBFC doesn't find other vernacular content on TV channels unsuitable for children. They are okay with children watching Dabanggs and Singhams on TV -- films promoting dangerous ideas of masculinity -- despite the physical violence they glorify. In fact, Dabangg, which is screened religiously every other weekend like the country would whither away in the absence of the film, actually has a man threaten to slap a woman, out of 'love'.
They are okay with the zillion Hindi and other vernacular soaps promoting ridiculous stereotypes of women -- the 'good sanskaari' woman, 'the vamp', 'the slut' etc -- and we haven't heard them lose sleep over what children might learn from being exposed these shows. Most popular Hindi movie channels routinely air dubbed versions of Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu films. The kind of misogyny these films perpetuate is mind-numbing. Ever heard the CBFC saying anything against them?
What would it take to drag the 'censor board' out from under the rock that's coming between them and real life? Perhaps a Google search for the century it is working in?
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