When rumors were making the rounds that India’s Central Board of Film Certification issued a non-permit for the release of Udta Punjab, citing “excessive swearing, abusive language and drug consumption” as the reason, many Indians on the Twittersphere went berserk.
But they shouldn’t have.
The CBFC has always maintained a fickle relationship with Bollywood filmmakers who attempt to push a certain, more liberal agenda than the conservative board can handle. Classics such as Bandit Queen, Water and Amu, which boldly reminded us of the 1984 Sikh massacre, have all been denied at some point a rating by the CBFC and were as a result, banned for a while.
And although India might be making great strides in progressive legislation and commercial cinema is following suit in that regard, the country justifiably remains a deeply conservative, deeply sansakari developing nation.
But America, an often thought of bastion of liberalism, has arguably a more regressive film ratings board than India.
The landmark expose documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, unearthed this story, that for the past forty years, The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), has stifled the creativity of great filmmakers such as John Waters (Hairspray), Atom Egoyan (Ararat) and Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) by ordering them to cut out scenes and shots they deemed provocative or else their films will receive an NC-17 rating.
Receiving an NC-17 rating for your film is a death knell, that rating means that the studio will not release the film because theaters across America and the world will not play films with that rating.
The American MPAA’s ratings system bears a conservative ideological slant with board members – two of whom, it must be said, are clergy members (so much for the separation of church and state) allowing scenes of gratuitous violence to bypass their NC-17 rating while scenes depicting sexuality of any kind are typically faced with much scrutiny.
This is why torture porn flicks such as SAW and Grinderhouse, where we graphically see dozens of people’s heads blown off and genitals being severed, receive an acceptable “R” rating but a scene in Boys Don’t Cry where we see a female character experiencing a ten second orgasm was ordered to be cut to receive an “R” rating.
Because India is a country still in its infancy, a country still trying to temper its many social, religious and political pluralities, it’s easier to understand its desire to constrain artistic freedoms than say a much older, much more developed country such as America that still cringes at the thought of a woman experiencing sexual pleasure.