What are the rules of Bollywood?

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 2 2005 6:46 PM

What Are the Rules of Bollywood?

Is there really no kissing allowed?

On Wednesday, the Indian government announced that, starting Aug. 1, smoking will no longer be allowed on the silver screen. New movies must be entirely smoke-free, and older films can only be presented with appropriate health warnings. What else can't you show in Bollywood?

The rules are vague and their application inconsistent. But in most Indian films you won't see French kissing, nudity of any kind, or excessive drug use. * Interclass romances are fair game. Modest kisses, like this one from the 1996 film Raja Hindustani, do turn up from time to time. Touchy political subjects (like religious or ethnic violence) are off limits, especially in films critical of the ruling party.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Advertisement

Official censorship comes from the government's Central Board of Film Certification. The board—which is composed of actors, writers, composers, scholars, industrialists, and politicians—screens every movie made in India and assigns it a rating: unrestricted (U), unrestricted with parental guidance (UA), restricted to adults (A), or restricted to a special class (S). The board can also refuse a film outright for public exhibition and often uses this power to order the excision of offensive scenes. Producers can appeal, first to a revising committee and then to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. But early rulings tend to be definitive. To guard against the government censors, many directors shoot more footage than they expect to use in the final cut.

In assigning its ratings, the censor board looks for scenes of violence against animals, children, women, and handicapped people, as well as those that promote drinking, drug use, sexual perversion, or criminal activity. Sexually explicit images and language are also cause for censorship: The film Raaz, for example, lost some nude scenes, and the board also took issue with a character saying, "I'm not a woman you can fuck and forget." Any scenes that undermine the sovereignty or security of India or its "public order" are also forbidden. The documentary Final Solution ran into trouble last year for its portrayal of the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat but the film was eventually released.

Though there is a rule against obscenity in the Indian Constitution, specific film restrictions originated with the Cinematograph Act of 1952 and were updated in 1983. (Indian cinema was somewhat more permissive before independence.) A high-court ruling in 1970 affirmed the role of the government as a censor of the film industry, but insisted that decisions on content be made in context: "It is not elements of rape, leprosy, sexual immorality which should attract the censor's scissors but how the theme is handled by the producer."

Efforts to reform the Cinematograph Act have been unsuccessful. In 2002, Vijay Anand quit his post as chairman of the censor board after failing in a bid to update the rules. Anand wanted to create a new rating—XA—for "soft pornographic" films. (Indian "soft porn" is far tamer than the American version and refers to scenes of implied nudity and sexual acts.)

The industry does provide some self-censorship. Some actors are uncomfortable with filming on-screen kisses, and some directors prefer the current system to one with no regulation.

Explainer thanks Tejaswini Ganti of Connecticut College.

Correction, June 3: The original version of this column included "Hindu-Muslim romance" among the elements rarely seen in Indian films. In fact, it's not so uncommon. (See, for example, the movie Bombay.) (Return to the corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 23 2014 12:16 PM Another Intervention?    Anti-ISIS airstrikes aren’t about keeping Americans safe.  
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 12:36 PM Krispy Kreme Stuffed Half a Million Calories into One Box of Doughnuts
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 23 2014 11:33 AM High-Concept Stuff Designed to Remind People That They Don’t Need Stuff  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google Exec: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.