We were fortunate enough to be able to conduct an interview with journalist Chhaya Néné in order to gain insight into the world of censorship in Bollywood. As an active journalist, Néné has published articles on the censorship of the 2016 Bolloywood film Udta Punjab.
Chhaya Néné is a passionate journalist, who has worked all around the globe. Although she was born in Virginia, she is currently based in Los Angeles but has also worked in England and India. She graduated as Valedictorian from the University of Southern California, earning a Master of Arts in Journalism. She also graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Miami in Communications and International Studies.
– Pranav Bohra and Soor Vora
Pranav Bohra & Soor Vora: How does the Indian Censorship Board differ from that of other countries?
Chhaya Néné: If you look at content in the US, censorship is much rarer. There are movie guidelines, but the Freedom of Speech allows for difficult and dark discussions to be had. Movies and media in general have a tremendous impact on their viewers so one can start an important discussion based off a film. In Europe, censorship is much less than in the US and can be jarring when one turns on the television. In Europe, nudity isn’t made to be as big of a deal as it is in the US and other nations, therefore it is not met with supreme outrage and discomfort. Censorship really depends on the country you come from and what people are used to seeing. When the content changes, discussions of censorship levels arise and can create tensions. Sometimes those tensions arise out of fear that one’s culture can be affected and cultural values lost.
PB & SV: In your experience covering these films, would you say that Udta Punjab was an outlier, or rather part of an overarching trend of film censorship in India?
CN: From my personal experience, India has battled censorship issues with the Board numerous times. Artists want to make movies without limitations and the board wants to sanitize content. I think the uproar was due to the number of cuts the Board wanted to make.
PB & SV: How does censorship function in terms of its impact on the public?
CN: Censorship can have a lasting negative impact on numerous people. But it should be noted that the rationale behind the censorship needs full disclosure.
That is to say…
There is a reason that movies come with ratings and forewarnings and if those reasons are to protect a younger audience from mature subjects, then protection should be put into place. That is, protection and not censorship, two terms often confused for one another. However, if protection/censorship exists because people are uncomfortable with sexuality, cursing, or concepts that may be new/different, then it is unfair to deprive society of a chance to formulate their own opinions on new subject matters. That is to say, when censorship exists, it creates a chilling effect on creativity. Artists are stunted when it comes to making films with poignant messages because they don’t know what their limitations are and how to address those concerns. Censorship of Punjab’s drug problem put a weak Band-Aid on the larger issue that needs to be fixed which is addiction.
Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate is one of the best things happening to India right now because it hits upon hard topics that need to be discussed and analyzed. It takes guts to tackle bigger issues and by censoring those types of issues you’re creating a black market/underground market for discussions and content.
PB & SV: Would you like to add anything further?
CN: India is a beautiful country with a massive film industry. They have a responsibility as a nation to allow positive change and growth as well as healthy discussions, whether that’s through scaling back on censorship or allowing people to have public-forum discussions. Movies are a great medium to reach audiences, and with new honest content, change doesn’t have to be necessarily bad. It could help with drug problems, poverty, abuse, and what not. But it can also highlight India’s beauty, rich culture, diverse food, and quite accepting nature. The new way that films are being made allows for new voices in the discussion. Censorship boards should let those voices be heard.