ELIZA JOHNY EARNS A LIVING watching movies until 7 pm on most days of the week. She knows, as does her boss, that most people think she has a great job. It’s true that Johny likes her work, but all the same, it sometimes wears her down. She spends four hours watching a film that’s only 120 minutes long. And she doesn’t get to pick them: Johny watches everything Sony Pix, the TV channel she works for, acquires. She just sits there, in one corner of the office, beside her small television with a DVD player perched above it, rewinding, skipping forward, and pausing just enough to let the meaning of words sink in so that when a movie finally goes on air, it’s clear of anything that could cause offence—which means that when Cameron Diaz danced to something called ‘the penis song’ in the movie The Sweetest Thing (2002) as it aired on Sony Pix in early February, it sounded something like this: “What a lovely ride. Your [blank] is a thrill. Your [blank] is a killer. A giant coupe de ville. Your [blank] packs a wallop. Your [blank] brings a load. And when it makes deliveries, it needs its own zip code.” This was Johny’s work, shaped in part by rules laid down by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), guidelines of the Indian Broadcasting Federation, and the channel’s internal standards and practices committee, which acts as a final filter.
One movie channel had recently removed the word ‘beef’ from a subtitle, leaving behind ‘cake’—the omission was severe, and reeked of overcaution. It was alarming; what exactly leads to censorship of this magnitude?
Between Johny and Aarti Mandelia, who looks after operations, movies broadcast on Sony Pix are cut and their subtitles modified, ironically, to protect works from the unpredictable feedback of censors in Bengaluru who issue the U or UA certificate a movie needs to be broadcast on television. A dictat from a panel of censors has to be obeyed, and appeals take time, so before the censors see a movie, channels snip parts off themselves.