In April 2015, when the Indian soap opera Banoo Main Teri Dulhann—“I Will Be Your Bride”—appeared on Ariana TV, a channel in Afghanistan, something was amiss. As the title song rang out, women in bright salwar kameezes danced onscreen, and the lead character, dressed in shiny, red bridal wear, ran into the arms of her lover. The characters spoke Pashto, and “Ram” had been changed to “khuda.” The actresses’ uncovered shoulders and midriffs appeared blurry and pixelated. In another scene, a man held a plate full of candles in front of something, but it was not quite clear what. The Hindu idol he was worshipping had been censored from the episode.
Banoo Main Teri Dulhannis not the only programme to receive such treatment. Indian soap operas, often criticised in their own country for being too regressive, are considered not just too liberal, but even transgressive in Afghanistan. Thus, when the original episodes first arrive in dubbing studios, Afghan video editors must blur all objectionable content in the scenes, such as too much bare skin, Hindu ways of worship, alcohol and anything that could offend religious sentiments. Hindu idols are a big no-no, as idol worship is considered one of the gravest sins in Islam. The editors rarely ever cut entire scenes, and usually, blurring does the trick.
After the visual clean-up, the dialogue goes to the translators, who replace all references to Hindu culture with terms and concepts that would be acceptable to Islamists. Agle janam mein—in the next life—becomes Dar duniya-ye baid, or in the afterlife, and Hai Ram becomes Ya Allah. This censorship is a pre-emptive measure taken by production firms to avoid trouble from the government and religious hardliners, who have constantly panned the shows for being “un-Islamic” over the last 15 years.