When filmmaker Harsh Warrdhan registered the title #MeToo at the Indian Motion Pictures Producer’s Association in November 2017, he didn’t think that would be a reason for the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or the Censor Board as it’s notoriously called, to block the film’s release.
But according to a 12 November 2018 show-cause notice sent by the Board to the producers and seen by HuffPost India, it wants the filmmakers to change the title so the “extent and complexity of the #MeToo movement isn’t misunderstood or compromised in any way”.
Now Warrdhan, along with his film’s producers, has moved court against CBFC for stalling the film’s release. The petition has been filed on March 6 at the Delhi High Court.
“In the petition we are arguing that the cuts/modifications that have been ordered by CBFC are serious encroachment of the right to speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Board has missed the central theme of the film. Film deals with a highly sensitive issue and any tampering with respect to the scenes can cripple the narrative,” said Shilpi Jain, the lawyer representing the film’s makers.
Warrdhan shot the 110-minute independent drama, starring National Award-winning actor Ritika Singh, over the course of 30 days in Haryana. Titled #MeToo, the film is about a young woman being abducted and sexually harassed in a moving car.
After the film was shot and edited, the makers applied for a CBFC certificate in October 2018. The Examining Committee, headed by Tushar Karmarkar, refused to clear the film. According to Warrdhan, no explanation was provided for why a certificate was being denied to them.
“We had applied for an Adult certificate considering the film has strong language. Even then, the certificate didn’t come through. The film was forwarded to the Revising Committee ― which is the second layer of censorship in the process.”
HuffPost India has reached out to Karmarkar and CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi and will update this story once we receive a response.
In October 2018, hundreds of women in India shared their stories of being sexually harassed and assaulted by colleagues, bosses and others, mainly inn the entertainment and media industries. The spontaneous outpouring, which happened almost exactly a year after the Harvey Weinstein exposé set off a torrent of stories globally, was dubbed India’s #MeToo moment.
Warrdhan said that the makers had to wait for over a month before the Revising Committee sat down for a screening.
Strangely, the screening took place in Chennai. “We were told a night before that the screening is happening the next day. I took the first flight out.”
In Chennai, the Revising Committee, led by actress Gautami, deliberated on the film for over two hours. Then, Warrdhan was called inside. He was given a list of 10 cuts/modifications, including the change in title, for the certificate.
Some of the other cuts recommended by the Board include cuss words such as “M*** Ch**,” “Be*** Ch**,” and relatively milder words such as “Ghanta”. The Board also objected to a scene where one of the men in the movie refer women as “moorghie (hen).”
“It’s supposed to be a reflection of that particular character’s worldview about women. How can I take that out? You’ve a song like Tandoor Murghi Taiyaar (Fevicol Se from Dabangg 2) where Kareena Kapoor and Salman Khan are dancing and the CBFC has no problem with that?” said Warrdhan.
Warrdhan refused to comply. The other option included a second screening with the Revising Committee or moving court.
He chose the latter.
“We aren’t able to start our promotions as the title hasn’t been cleared. This is a film that needs to be seen, not censored.”
In the past, films featuring abusive language have had to struggle it out while decidedly crass comedies such as Great Grand Masti and Mastizaade, which objectify women and have used cheap sexual innuendos for crude humour, have been comfortably passed by the Censor Board.
Then there was Alankrita Srivastav’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, which was denied a certificate because it was too ‘lady-oriented.’ The Board’s official explanation read, “The story is lady oriented, it’s their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, ”
The CBFC has faced enormous criticism for many of its decisions, especially during the tenure of Pahlaj Nihalani, who was at the helm for around two years. One of the many controversies he courted included his demand to censor the word “intercourse” from Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal.
However, things aren’t looking very different under the leadership of current chief, Prasoon Joshi.
In February, Mint analysed data from CBFC to find that “censorship has scaled a new peak, with the proportion of films without cuts falling to the century’s lowest levels in 2016-17”. That was the latest year for which data was available.
Warrdhan, who has a court hearing in Delhi on Friday, is hopeful that the film will be cleared without any cuts or modifications.
In the past films such as Haider and Udta Punjab have been cleared after the makers moved court against the CBFC.
In the case of Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, where the Board objected to the word Punjab in the title and also to the expletive-laden script, the Bombay High Court observed, “Though the board (is) empowered to make cuts, it must remember that its job is to certify and not censor.”
“We aren’t able to start our promotions as the title hasn’t been cleared. This is a film that needs to be seen, not censored,” he said.