Censoring the arts—humouring offended mobs

INDIA’S FREE SPEECH CHALLENGES—Part I. Films, television and public events ran into deletions and protests from a whole range of perpetrators in the last 15 months.


Even in a challenging fifteen-month period  for censorship of the arts in India, the latest development invites disbelief.

In the ongoing clashes over the historical film Padmavati, which since January have seen the director attacked, and then the  sets destroyed, a minister of the Rajasthan state  government has this week  invited the perpetrators of  violent mob censorship, the Rajput caste organization called Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS), to see the film and state their objections. Rajasthan’s Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Arun Chaturvedi was reported to have met a delegation of leaders from the SRRKS, the Rashtriya Brahman Mahasangh and the Rajasthan Vaishya Mahasabha and  assured them that  even if the film was  released in the state it would be screened before “knowledgeable members of society”  from whom objections would be invited.

Sponsors of goons will now be treated as conscientious objectors to be negotiated with. But then negotiation as a response to bullying has been increasingly in evidence in 2016 and  the first quarter of 2017.

Last year famously saw the chief minister of Maharashtra intervene with the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena to allow the release of Karan Johar’s film which had used Pakistani actors. The MNS was a political party looking for an emotive issue to whip up, and from September 2016 through November, it agitated against the release of Bollywood films which had used Pakistani actors, to protest the Uri terror attack.

"Sponsors of goons will now be treated as conscientious objectors to be negotiated with."


The MNS threatened Bollywood directors Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt that they should refrain from releasing the films Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (which featured Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a cameo) and Raees (which marked the Bollywood debut of Pakistani actress Mahira Khan).

When the party threatened to vandalise theatres if they screened 'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil', the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis negotiated  between the MNS president Raj Thackeray and Karan Johar to secure release of the film. The film producer promised to donate a sum of Rs 5 crore to the Army Welfare Fund.

In Punjab the ruling coalition  raised many objections to Udta Punjab,  a film portraying the drug culture in the state, and the CBFC ordered 94 cuts. The Bombay High Court stepped in however, to order that the film should be released with a single cut.


Other instances of censorhip in the states

In Kaithal in Haryana in January 2016 television actor Kiku Sharda of the show‘Comedy Nights With Kapil’, was arrested for mimicking Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on his show, and sent to 14 days judicial custody.

In January 2016 the Madhya Pradesh High Court issued notices to the government of India, Information and broadcasting ministry, censor board and the directors and actors of film 'Bajirao Mastani' over its release without showing the script to the decedents of the royal family. 

In February in Uttar Pradesh residents of Aligarh found that the film Aligarh had been banned from being screened in the city after Shakuntala Bharti, the BJP mayor, protested against its screening. She felt the film would  defame the city by linking it “with homosexuality".   

In March 2016 the CBFC muted words in the  Kannada film Kiragoorina Gayyaligalu which is an adapation of a novel fo the same name. Audiences in Karnataka  found themselves watching a  film interspersed with muted words.

In July in Kerala the Mammootty starrer-“Kasaba,” ran into trouble right after its release  with the  Kerala Women’s Commission issuing notices to the actor, the movie’s director and producer for  allegedly “portraying women in a poor light” through some scenes and dialogues.”

 In Tamilnadu in October 2016 The Madras High Court upheld an order of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which had refused to grant certification to a feature film in Tamil directed by K. Ganeshan, titled Porkalathil Oru Poo, based on incidents in the life of a LTTE journalist named Isai Priya in Sri Lanka. FCAT upheld the CBFC order on the grounds that the film criticises India and the Sri Lankan Army and justifies Tamil Eelam. The firm also portrayed Sri Lankan war crimes.

But earlier in March a Sri Lankan film Muttrupulliya, a docu-drama that portrays the life of the Tamil ethnic population in post-war Sri Lanka, has won its appeal with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) after the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in Chennai refused to certify it. 



Issues on which Indian films were censored or blocked by CBFC or citizenry:

  • Homophobia (Ka Bodyscapes, Aligarh, Moonlight, Mama’s Boys)
  • Distorting history (Padmavati)
  • Sexism (Lipstick under my Burkha)
  • Using Pakistani artistes (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)
  • “Steamy” scenes  (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil,  Wazir, Unindian,)
  • Abusive language (Houseful 3)
  • Showing a community in bad light (Parched, Santa Banta Pvt. Ltd)
  • Showing a state in bad light (Udta Punjab)
  • Baring body parts (Parched, Kathakali)
  • Showing female inner wear (Baar Baar Dekho)
  • Using the F word (Raaz Reboot)
  • Satirising religious epics (Mama’s Boys)
  • Resemblance to PM, impending elections (Modi ka Gaon)
  • Portraying communal riot of 1946 (Danga - The Great Calcutta Killing of 1946)
  • References to political figures (Coffee with D)
  • Too close to real life, could disturb peace in (Power of Patidar, Salagto Sawal)
  • May disturb peace (Sharanam Gachchami)
  • The director’s accent ('Serendipity Cinema')


Censorship on television

Pakistani serials  (Dropped from Zindagi channel)


Censoring theatre

Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat

Issue: Words like ‘Khairlanji’, ‘Hindutva’, ‘Ramabai Nagar’, ‘kutra’ (dog)


Films denied certification:

Lipstick under my Burkha

Missing on a Weekend

Mohalla Assi



Censorship of events


  • Pakistani poet’s programme at Ajmer Lit Fest cancelled.
  • Issue: District BJP president warned organisers that right-wing groups would stage protests, wanted cancelation because of prevailing tension at JNU. 


  • Udaipur Film fest venue changed after ABVP complaint
  • Issue: This whole event is not good for society. The event is being organised by people who have communist ideology”


  • Shiv Sena seeks cancellation of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s concert in Ahmedabad.
  • Issue: Country and Gujarat facing severe drought


  • FIR against comedians for show telecast on TV channel
  • Issue: Hurting religious sentiments by mimicking Sirsa-based Dera Sachcha Sauda’s head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh



  • Opposing Kerala Litfest
  • Issue: Festival had an “anti Muslim attitude.”


  • Screening of film on Kashmir in IIT Delhi disrupted
  • Issue: Anti-national




Central Board of Film Certification

Suo moto censorship in cases of more than
30 films which came for certification


Religious groups:

Hindu Sena

Dera Sachcha Sauda followers


Political organisations

Mahrashtra Nav Nirman Sena


Shiv Sena


Cultural groups

Shri Rajput Karni Sena

The Punjabi Cultural Heritage Board



Bombay High Court

Censors Jolly LLB after  CBFC clears it.


Individuals and families

Shahid Rafi, son of late playback singer Mohd Rafi,taking objection to dialogue that purportedly insulted the singer in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

Masrubhai Rabari , a BJP worker  from Anjar town  Parched

Peter Mukherjea and his sister Shangon Dasgupta

Subhash Chandra, Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana
and chairman of Zee


Professional bodies

Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEAI)

Single-screens in 4 states ban films with Pakistani actors



  • Bombay High Court in case of Udta Punjab
  • Bombay High Court in case of Dark Chocolate
  • Delhi High Court in the case of Santa Banta Pvt Ltd
  • Kerala High Court in the case of Ka Bodyscapes


However 2016 was also the year when the government appointed  a committee headed by film maker Shyam Benegal to examine the issue of censorship which had become increasingly contentious. The committee recommended certification of films for viewing by different audiences instead of censorship by ordering cuts,  and by the end of the year the Hindustan Times was reporting that the hyperactive Central Board of Film Certification had cleared new ratings to allow adult content in films. The first quarter of 2017 has seen a marked drop in the number of films ordered to drop scenes. 



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The National Herald has announced  that Neelabh Mishra, Editor-in-Chief of National Herald and Navjeevan, died on February 24 after a long illness, in Chennai. He was formerly editor of the Hindi Outlook until 2015, and became editor of NH in 2016. He began his career from the Navbharat Times in Patna, and launched Eenadu TV in Rajasthan in 1998. Tributes to him on Twitter describe him as  deeply committed to egalitarian and secular values.                                             

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