Vice Squad
Monday, February 02, 2004
India Vice: Film Censorship

India faced an economic crisis in 1991 and responded with a significant liberalization of its economy, one that has contributed to very strong growth in recent years. The liberalization is far from complete, however, both in economic terms and in other areas. The Hindustan Times on January 28, 2004 relates a story from Chennai of two film producers who are fugitives from justice. The crimes they are accused of? Showing their movies complete with scenes that did not meet with approval from the regional censor officer. One of the producers allegedly "had not deleted a song with bawdy lyrics that compared women to commodities up for sale." (Think of the great literature that would be eliminated under such a standard -- how about Falstaff in Merry Wives of Windsor, who says of Mistresses Page and Ford, "they shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both." Pretty much all of Troilus and Cressida would be lost, too.) The theatres where the offending films were shown have been closed; there is undoubtedly great jubilation among the population of Chennai that they have been protected from seeing such material. Once again, the paradox of criminalizing adult vice: it is a crime to show a movie with bawdy lyrics, but not a crime to imprison someone who shows a movie with bawdy lyrics. In Iraq, it is wrong to sell alcohol, but not to kill people who sell alcohol.

Also last week, a criminal complaint was filed against another film producer in India. Seems that a scene in the offending movie showed the coffins of Indian soldiers, wrapped in the national flag. The problem? The filmed coffins were incorrectly wrapped in the flag! "The directives issued by the Government of India under the Indian National Flag Act, clearly mention how to wrap the national flag on the coffins, but in the film the coffins were wrongly wrapped and it was a criminal case under the National Honours Preventive Act, 1971, the complaint said." Good to know that the directives are clear.

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