The censor board has for the first time cleared a film with scenes of female frontal nudity and shots of bare male posteriors. The Indian audience will get to see celebrated filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Golden Globe-winner and Oscar-nominated In 12 Years A Slave (I12YAS) without the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) having used its scissors. The film releases on Friday.
The move is seen as a sign of the censor board opening up to explicit adult content on screen. Interestingly, filmmaker Hansal Mehta only last week tore into the CBFC and filed an RTI application to know why Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was given a U/A certificate whereas his film Shahid got an A.
McQueen is naturally thrilled with the censor board’s liberal ways. “As a filmmaker, I needed to see the lashes on the back. I needed to see the pyschological effect afterward. If I hadn’t done that, I would have done a disservice because that evidence had to be shown. The lynching had to be depicted in the best possible manner because it happened to hundreds of thousands of people. As someone whose ancestors experienced it, I needed to do it the way I did it,” he told dna.
I12YAS is based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name. Actor Michael Fassbender says the frontal nude shots and exposed derrieres are necessary because “that’s the reality of it”. He said: “If we really want to do justice to Solomon’s story, who are we to censor it?”
Incidentally, I12YAS initially faced six cuts, but a revising committee gave it a green signal without any. “The CBFC is in sync with the changing sensibilities and for the past three years, has tried to be as accommodating as possible with content. But we have to step in when the content gets discriminatory or derogatory with regard to caste, class, religion or gender,” CBFC spokesperson Anjum Rajabali told dna. “I12YAS was given clearance based on merit after it was felt that the scenes were necessary and that cutting them would take away from the film itself. However, this does not mean a blanket approval for nudity in adult-only films.”
For instance, a similar depiction of stripping to keep slaves in check was excised from Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 revenge fantasy Django Unchained. Set in the same period as I12YAS, the film’s Indian version dropped a fleeting glimpse of Django’s wife Broomhilda being denuded and thrown into a box as punishment. Another scene of a nude Django nearly being castrated was also snipped.
Recently, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street had to shed nearly seven minutes of exposure before being deemed fit for Indian audiences.
Ashim Ahluwalia’s recently released A-rated Miss Lovely had to morph female frontal nudity with blurs.
The only time Bollywood pushed the envelope on female frontal nudity was in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, a biopic on Phoolan Devi which released in 1994. This had led to a heated exchange of words between author Arundhati Roy and the filmmaker.
Rajabali rubbished Hansal Mehta’s claims of double standards, but other censor board members like Nandini Sardesai are shocked with what is happening.
“When I saw The Wolf of Wall Street, I was shocked to see some scenes which had made the cut. Yes there is the Cinematograph
Act, but the kind of subjectivity that one sees in the standards used for Hindi, Malayalam or Tamil cinema and Hollywood is bizarre,” she said.
Sardesai cites the example of Pyaar Ka Punchnama, which released in 2011. “We gave them an A certificate even at the review,
but they took it to Chennai and got a U/A. When you fill your panel with political appointees with no exposure to cinema, what do you expect?”