When Bollywood film-maker Kunal Deshmukh set out to make “Jannat 2″ (Heaven 2), a raunchy tale about arms dealing with plenty of swearing and bare skin, he ended up shooting two versions – one for cinema audiences, and the other for television.
Deshmukh was not being extravagant. Like many Indian movie producers and TV broadcasters, he walked a tightrope of catering to the tastes of a rapidly modernizing but largely conservative country, whose censors have scant tolerance for adult content.
Movie-makers like Deshmukh risk seeing their work chopped to pieces on a censor’s editing floor, or banned from television altogether if it is deemed unsuitable for family viewing.
“I didn’t want to take a chance. TV rights for movies are important revenue earners and I would like my movie to be shown at a prime-time slot,” Deshmukh told Reuters.
“I would much rather spend some time and re-shoot certain scenes so that they are fit for TV.”
The tussles over what is and what is not acceptable material reflect a wider debate about censorship in a country proud of its status as the world’s largest democracy, but which has witnessed several controversies over free speech this year.
“It’s ridiculous. You would think there would be some space for self-regulation, but this has become arbitrary,” says Paritosh Joshi, a former member of the Indian Broadcasting Federation, an industry body that looks at content regulation.
In February, Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal sought to calm fears of a China-style crackdown on companies like Google and Facebook after a court ordered two dozen firms to block material that could offend religious groups. REUTERS