Indian cinema has been held in high regard in celluloid industries all over the world. But the dark shadows of nudity and obscenity − by-products of misrepresentation of the occidental culture and societal decadence − loom larger day by day.
The rising levels of obscenity and nudity in Indian films not only pose a threat to the foundations of Indian society but also raise questions about the cultural and sexual norms that have to be followed in adherence to our variegated, rich and ageless culture. The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world, producing around 1200 films annually in Hindi and in other major regional languages, with an annual turnover of Rs. 5000 crores. This vastness of the Indian film industry has a profound impact over Indian society due to which it plays a substantial influencing role in shaping our national attitudes, principles, social emotions and ways of living. The ideas communicated by it, being accessible in all languages, to all castes, religions and regions, convey a vision of Indian society which may affect societal behaviour in a variety of ways, ranging from direct expounding of a political or social dogma to the subtle shaping of thought. But the ongoing explosion of obscenity in Indian cinema and the increasing public tolerance of unwanted, unwarranted and excessive depiction of sex and obscenity in the films has raised concerns over the effect of such depictions on society in general and on youth in particular. Movies today are so vulgar and obscene, that viewing them with the family is often not possible without discomfort or embarrassment. In this context, the censorship imposed by the Film Censor Board is vital. Censorship, broadly speaking, can be a kind of manipulation that makes information conform to the needs of a variety of vested interests. The debate over the acceptability of obscenity in Indian cinema is not new, and the first social action against Indian cinema can be traced as far back as 1954 when a petition signed by 13,000 housewives was presented to the then Prime Minister, late Jawaharlal Nehru, alleging that cinema was posing a threat to ‘the moral health of the country ….’ In 1993 another song from the movie ‘Khalnayak’, ‘Choli ke piche kya hai’ raised a stir and became a focus of public attraction because of its erotic verses and seemingly tantalising dance sequences.
The menace of sexual abuse and exploitation of women through exposure of their bodylines, limbs, language and contours – sometimes to the extent of complete nudity and at others to semi-nudity − in Indian films, instead of being minimised, has assumed monstrous proportions. In recent times, this trend is growing by leaps and bounds.
The Shiv Sena and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) vehemently opposed it and a legal controversy erupted regarding the same. Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Bandit Queen’, the first film to show frontal nudity besides 250 filthy abuses aroused anger and opposition, so much so that not only the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC ) demanded a series of cuts but also separate writ petitions were filed by Phoolan Devi herself and members of the Gujjar community. Later, with the coming of the 21st century, a lot of controversy arose about many films amongst which the most notable is ‘Jism’, where celebrated actress Bipasha Basu was accused of obscenity. In recent times the audience as well as the Film Censor Board has become lenient and the films with seemingly controversial rushes like ‘Jism 2’, ‘Raaz 2’, ‘Kurbaan’, ‘Matrubhoomi’, etc. have been screened with minimal editing. Actress Vidya Balan’s depiction of the famous seductress and actress Silk Smitha in the recent movie ‘Dirty Picture’ is also of significance. Vidya Balan, ably assisted by another acclaimed actor Naseeruddin Shah, won a National Award. ‘Dirty Picture’ depicts the personal life of Silk Smitha in a graphic fashion which again can be interpreted as an increasing level of tolerance of the general public and the Censor Board. It is a great pity and shame that heedless of our rich heritage, the menace of sexual abuse and exposure of bodylines, limbs and contours to the extent of complete or partial nudity has assumed monstrous proportions. This trend is growing by leaps and bounds. Women, once on a very high pedestal, have today been dragged down to an unacceptable level by treating and portraying them only as an item for gratification of animal lust. The non-implementation of our laws in this regard, both in letter and spirit, is demonstrative of our tendency to act more in breach than in adherence. Legislation alone cannot by itself solve such deep-rooted problems and we have to approach them in other ways. Self-regulation by film makers is the need of the hour to arrest the growing trend of flesh flashing in Indian films. It is high time this evil is uprooted at all levels with firmness and strict and sincere implementation of relevant laws. Otherwise, we stand to be blamed by posterity for passing on lewdness and licentiousness of the meanest order instead of fascinating aspects of our rich traditions.