How to Get Sex Past the Censor Board

Pop Culture

How to Get Sex Past the Censor Board

Illustration: Akshita Monga

In a scene from last week’s Mirza Juuliet, a raunchy and rustic cross-pollination of the legend of Mirza Sahibaan and Romeo Juliet, Ranjan Pandey (Chandan Roy Sanyal), the horny prospective groom of the film’s feisty heroine, Julie (Pia Bajpai), calls her late one night, wanting to indulge in phone sex. Explaining the mechanics of the deed, he is shown masturbating while calling out her name, even as the flustered Julie hangs up.

Even a couple of years ago – before the Pahlaj Nihalani-led Censor Board of Film Certification unleashed his reign of terror on all things un-saanskari – the inclusion of the scene in a mainstream Hindi film would have come as a surprise. But under Nihalani’s regime, this is especially staggering. So unbelievable was the board’s decision to retain this bold scene that Sanyal, the actor portraying the role of Ranjan Pandey admitted that he was surprised that Pahlaj Nihalani didn’t ask for this sequence to be cut.

Has the Censor Board really softened its illogical stance against the display of immoral things like sex and sexuality in films? How has Mirza Juuliet succeeded where Udta Punjab, Lipstick Under My Burkha, and Haraamkhor have been unlucky? Have we entered a parallel dimension or has Nihalani been kidnapped by aliens?

Sadly, no. The scene in Mirza Juuliet is the only progressive anomaly, because the rest of the film tries hard to hit sanskaari goals. For instance, Julie drags her childhood friend Mirza (Darshan Kumar) to the ghats of Uttar Pradesh to tell him that she has just fantasised about him and wants to do the dirty with him. A befuddled Mirza deems this as an appropriate time to school her. “Yeh kaam shaadi se pehle karna gunaah hai” (sex before marriage is a crime), he tells her. A few minutes later, though, they do end up having sex.

So far, so progressive. Except, in another sequence when Mirza asks Julie to marry him, she rejects his proposal, telling him that her wedding has already been fixed and that her family would never accept him anyway. Angered, Mirza immediately transforms into moral policeman and tells her, ‘“Tum shaadi kisise aur sex kisise kar sakti ho lekin hum nahi.” (You can marry someone and have sex with someone else but I can’t).

Through these two scenes, the film successfully reinforces the age-old mindset that deems it a woman’s duty to stay a virgin until her wedding. Yes, folks, return to innocence. None of your western concepts of jumping a person’s bones when the feeling strikes.

It indulges in the most abominable clichés, time and again portraying how a woman’s place is in the kitchen and hence, there is little use of her trying to use her brain.

Then, there’s the ridiculous way the movie handles the issue of domestic violence. Julie wakes up to wails emanating from the adjoining room, where her brother is beating his wife during sex. When she asks some family members to go and help her, she is told not to worry as it is only “miyan biwi ka dangal”. The next morning, her bruised sister-in-law parrots: “Yeh toh sirf pati ka pyaar hai,” (my husband just showed me some love). Instead of calling out abusive men and showing how prevalent domestic violence is, the film not only dismisses is existence, but also appears to be giving a justification for it – leaning dangerously close to how many men in the country view domestic violence or marital rape. They look at it as their right, and the film does nothing but nod its head in approval. Another shining example of our Indian values.

The film’s narrative thus aligns itself with patriarchal mentality, and sinks under the weight of its own misogyny. It indulges in the most abominable clichés, time and again portraying how a woman’s place is in the kitchen and hence, there is little use of her trying to use her brain. It doffs its hat to a horribly regressive mode of thinking and never tries digging deeper. In the world of Mirza Juuliet, women’s sexual urges are treated as a joke and the male saviour complex rules supreme. Nothing in here that might rattle the Censor Board.

But you know what’s really beautiful? This genius quote from Pahlaj Nihalani who responded to the surprise over CBFC’s decision to allow the sex scenes to pass. “We are not prudes,” he said. “When sex is an integral part of the plot, we allow it. Mirza Juuliet is defined by the politics of violence. We’ve cut as little as possible.”

A slow clap for Mr Not-a-Prude Nihalani, a personality he slips into like an ichhadhaari nagin.

Not-a-Prude Nihalani was not present when he ordered the 12 cuts to profanities and a sex scene in Vidya Balan’s upcoming film Begum Jaan, a period drama about a brothel on the border that comes under threat during the Partition. That’s a film where sex is literally an integral part of the plot. The cuts were ordered despite the director’s argument that abuses are an integral part of the language used by prostitutes. But in the bubble that Nihalani and ilk presumably live in, only men abuse. The sex scene was cut by half because the “pounding and thrusting” – meant to highlight how sex is used to subdue women – was deemed “too excessive” even though the film already has an Adult certification.

Not-a-Prude Nihalani was not present when the Board refused to certify Shlok Sharma’s Haraamkhor, a movie that dealt with an illicit student-teacher romantic relationship. According to the Board, the subject of the film was not only provocative but also showed “the education department under a bad light” forcing its makers to file a case with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal that eventually gave it a U/A certificate.

Mirza Juuliet

In the world of Mirza Juuliet, women’s sexual urges are treated as a joke and the male saviour complex rules supreme.

Courtesy: Green Apple Media

Not-a-Prude Nihalani was not present when he ordered the 13 cuts to Udta Punjab which included all references to the state of Punjab – one would imagine that was integral to the film. Once the Bombay High Court stepped in, Nihalani rued that “doors for films with obscene, vulgar content are open now.”

Of course they are, so long as the film fits in with atrophied ideas of patriarchy. Mirza-Juuliet’s release comes barely weeks after the furore over the Censor Board’s refusal to certify Alankrita Shrivastava’s award-winning feminist drama Lipstick Under My Burkha because the film was too “lady-oriented”. Sex and desire are undoubtedly an integral part of the film, but it is in the hands of women – not men. As of yesterday, Lipstick Under My Burkha stands eligible for the Golden Globes, but back home, it remains banned.

If only Lipstick…. had made a joke about women’s sexuality, the way Mirza Juuliet does. It might yet have had a shot at domestic theatres.