3 years

On the contrary

The Tyranny of Bad Words

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Pahlaj Nihalani and the woes of being chairman of the Censor Board
It must actually come as something of a relief to Pahlaj Nihalani, the chairman of the Censor Board, that all the stand-up comedians in India are too terrified at the moment to see the joke in what he is going through. For recent events in Nihalani’s life span a spectrum of humour—from irony to satire to farce.

To go through the sequence of events, Nihalani first becomes interesting in a controversy not of his making. A musician said that the word ‘Bombay’ had been bleeped out from a music video of his that went to the censors because it had to be aired on television. Just as Nihalani was about to get pilloried, it became known that this was a decision of the earlier Board. So what does Nihalani do? He comes out with a list of words that are banned from Indian movies and in that list is also the word ‘Bombay’. How is that for self-flagellation?

The list reads like a useful manual for school children who are just getting used to the pleasure of punctuating sentences with bad words. Some oddities were present. ‘Pussy’, for example, was not permitted but ‘Dick’ was, by inference, because only ‘Fucking Dick’ was listed. ‘Masturbating’ was banned even though we are yet to hear someone get angry and shout ‘Masturbating’ as a curse. Hindi words included the benign ‘Haramzada’ which luckily for Dharmendra was not an injunction in force when he was around. ‘Bhonsdi Ke’ was also there, though Delhi Belly (2011) had long back shown how that could be worked around. And at the very end of that list, number 15, was ‘Double meaning any kind of words’ forgetting perhaps that Nihalani himself produced a movie called Andaz (1994) in which the lyrics of a song went along the lines of ‘Khada Hai Khada Hai’. We can translate it as ‘It Is Standing, It Is Standing’, but given the context of a horny Anil Kapoor waiting outside Juhi Chawla’s door, tongue lolled out in sexual desperation, the more apt meaning is ‘It Is Erect, It Is Erect’.

If the list that Nihalani undersigned was a joke, its ripples have been even more amusing with other members of the Censor Board going into revolt. Consider that this is a rebellion for free speech of abuses , and for a body that exists to suppress it, there is decidedly some irony in it. And even funnier, the revolt was successful. The list has been put on hold and if we knew what that meant then this wouldn’t be a government body. Can a filmmaker now use ‘Cock sucker’ (serial number 7 in the English list) without having to sweat over it being bleeped out? Can Aamir Khan do away with ‘Bose DK’ and ask his lyricist to fearlessly now use ‘Bhonsdi ke’ (serial number 6 in the Hindi list)? Can a cat be finally called ‘Pussy’ (number 13) in an Indian movie without Nihalani dipping into his vast experience of double meanings and ejecting the word?

When it is said that the list is on hold, does it mean temporarily? That the conditions are not right at present for such a measure but time will set it right? That a future age of wiser people will happily appreciate the words they do not hear?

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