Beginning is basically an activity which ultimately implies return and repetition rather than simple linear accomplishment. . . . beginning and beginning again are historical. . . . beginning not only creates but is its own method because it has intention. . . . beginning is making or producing difference.
Edward Said, Beginnings
A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest. . . . Practicing criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult.
Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture
Producing an Object of Study
When I visited Delhi in the summer of 1993, the censorship controversy in which Subhash Ghai's film Khalnayak (The villain) was enmeshed caught my eye. Newspapers, magazines, television shows, my family members, and neighbors were quite willing to comment on the deteriorating state of Hindi films. According to many, these films were full of vulgar lyrics, obscene dances, revealing costumes, and inane plots. Later, in 1995–1996 and 1997–1998, when I returned to do research on film censorship, meetings with officials revealed that the state, too, saw obscenity as a major problem, with satellite television viewed as the source. One of the officials noted that U.S. soap operas such as Santa Barbara and The Bold and the Beautiful, which had been brought to India by satellite television, propagated values that would undermine Indian society and culture. He also thought that the advent of satellite television had adversely affected commercial Indian films because producers had increased the amount of vulgarity in their works to compete with these shows. The official's comments pointed to a larger phenomenon, namely, the anxieties incited by the advent of liberalization in India. As new technologies and goods brought with them "Western culture," Indian citizens and the Indian state expressed concern that this culture would undermine Indian values; sexuality became a nodal point for articulating these anxieties. For this official and many others, censorship of sexuality was a key mechanism for enforcing and maintaining cultural boundaries.
My research on the topic of film censorship involving gender and heterosexuality (particularly female heterosexuality) in Hindi cinema took me to many institutions, offices, and libraries in India, including the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Nehru Memorial Library, the Indian Law Institute, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, the National Film Archive of India, the Film and Television Institute of India, and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). While graduate-school training had intellectually armed me with poststructuralist theory, which emphasizes the constructed, partial, and shifting nature of objects, the daunting task of chasing censorship at these varied sites often made me yearn for a fixed and readily available object of study. Whether it was deciphering legal or bureaucratic languages or conducting interviews, this fieldwork frequently required me to go beyond the comfort zone of my professional discipline, comparative literature.
I initially focused on collecting as much information as possible, and I constantly worried that I didn't have enough material, that the amount of information on various topics was uneven, or that the information simply did not make sense. As I learned more about film censorship, my major concerns turned to a different issue: how to weave a coherent narrative from all the information I had gleaned from film reports, personal interviews, direct observation of examining committees, legal cases, films, film magazines, newspapers, letters, and certification reports. What troubled me specifically was that in the act of creating a narrative about censorship, I would have to edit, selecting some pieces of information and cutting others. The uncanny resemblance between the practices employed in the production of scholarship and the practices used in censoring films struck me.
One of the many questions I asked myself during the course of my fieldwork was which of the 27,000 feature films and thousands of short films in fifty-two different languages I would analyze. The initial cut was quick and easy. I decided to focus on commercial feature films in Hindi because of my familiarity with the language and Bombay cinema. The information that I was able to locate and to which I was able to gain access placed constraints on my choices. Time and length also exerted their force on my choices. I had a limited amount of time in which to complete my research, and I needed to write a "reasonable" number of pages to both complete the work in a timely fashion and to ensure its readability. My theoretical and historical interests in gender and heterosexuality and post-1970 India (from the time immediately before the Emergency to the initial years of economic liberalization, roughly 1970–1996) also reduced the number of films. I further narrowed my choices by formulating questions and selecting films that would engage with them. I was most interested in pursuing three issues: How was censorship practiced? How were gender and heterosexuality intertwined with discourses of censorship, tradition, and cinema? What were the productive effects of such intertwining? Eventually a handful of films became my entry points into these questions: Gupt gyan (1974; Secret knowledge), Satyam shivam sundaram (1978; Truth, God, beauty), Pati parmeshwar (1989; A husband is like God), Khalnayak (1993), and Dilwale dulhania le jayenge (1995; The brave-hearted will take away the bride).
In developing a theoretical framework to analyze these films, as well as other material I had collected, I extensively relied on Michel Foucault's works, specifically Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and the three volumes of his History of Sexuality, as well as several essays and interviews. His insights enabled me to chart the complex relations among power, practice, and sexuality in producing censorship. In structuring my central questions, I drew on Foucault's astute observations in the article "Subject and Power," where he explains the difference between asking a question that begins with "how" and asking one that begins with "why" or "who." While the first method enables descriptions of practice(s), the second method leads one on a hunt for causes and subjects, respectively. Descriptions, I think, produce more complex versions of subjectivities, for they make visible overdetermined practices. For example, the practice of cutting is generally attributed to the state; in this model, the censors are the ones who cut films. But if we question this practice in the mode of how rather than who, we learn that cutting is not limited to or caused (only) by the state: directors and editors "cut" films for aesthetic and other reasons, audiences decide to patronize some films and not others, and scholars seek to narrow their studies, to name just a few relevant areas. A productive effect of this insight is an analytical rupture between subject and practice, which are intimately bound together in the notion that the censors are the (only) ones who cut films. This rupture enables us to see that the practice of cutting sediments the identities of the censors, directors, editors, audiences, and scholars; this practice, in turn, is attributed varied meanings, such as state authority, creative effort, entertainment, and scholarly work. What emerges is a field of relations between subjects and practices in which identities and meanings are blurred, leaking into one another rather than remaining fixed or rigid.
My study, which combines textual analysis, archival research, and qualitative fieldwork (personal interviews and direct observation of examining committees), makes possible such a dynamic vision of censorship. This interdisciplinary methodology does not aim at completeness. Rather, its purpose is to stretch the theoretical framework for viewing and understanding censorship. Scholarly accounts of film censorship analyze concerns pertaining to representation, film production, film reception, and state interventions largely in isolation from one another. As Annette Kuhn's study on censorship incisively shows, such studies separate texts and contexts, reproducing an intellectual division of labor where textual analysis becomes the domain of film studies, research on industry and the state falls within the ambit of mass communication, and microlevel analyses of film production and reception take place in the fields of anthropology and sociology. In contrast, my interdisciplinary methodology enables me to examine how central concepts of film studies, such as stardom, spectacle, genre, and sound, are employed and reconfigured within the compass of state censorship, thereby expanding the scope of their application and impact.
It will be helpful to situate my work in relation to film studies scholarship so as to elaborate on the contributions of this methodology. To do so, I will consider the articles in a recent issue of The Velvet Light Trap (2009) devoted to advancing our understanding of censorship and regulation in diverse international contexts. In conceptualizing this issue, the editors note that they "favored an incredibly diffuse notion of censorship and regulation." Therefore, they encouraged submissions that would chart innovative locations for studying these topics, thereby revealing the complex nature of censorship and regulation in the "current political and economic landscape of media production."
These rich scholarly contributions offer new avenues for studying censorship by turning our attention to the roles played by technology (video, television, and Internet), sites of reception, national agendas, and alternative economies (piracy). Adopting a Foucauldian approach, Theresa Cronin's "Media Effects and the Subjectification of Film Regulation" deftly demonstrates how the 1984 British Video Recordings Act, media effects scholarship, film reviews, and viewers' commentaries on web sites have sought to produce normative film spectatorship. Her examination of Wolf Creek's (2005) reception reveals that despite professing problems with the film's slasher narrative, neither reviewers nor audiences called to cut or ban. Rather, the debates on Wolf Creek sought to specify "how spectators should or should not respond." In her absorbing essay "Exemplary Consumer-Citizens and Protective State Stewards: How Reformers Shaped Censorship Outcomes Regarding The Untouchables," Laura Cook Kenna, like Cronin, illustrates film reception's critical role in the study of censorship. Kenna shows how Italian Americans won "representational concessions" from the producers of the U.S. television show The Untouchables by presenting themselves as "exemplary consumer-citizens." In contrast, the officers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons were not able to leverage the rhetoric of public interest to bolster their case against the show.
Both Nandana Bose's article "The Hindu Right and the Politics of Censorship: Three Case Studies of Policing Hindi Cinema, 1992–2002" and Tessa Dwyer and Ioana Uricaru's "Slashings and Subtitles: Romanian Media Piracy, Censorship, and Translation" rightly highlight the critical role national context plays in analyzing censorship. Bose draws our attention to an important political site for the study of censorship in India, namely, the relationship between the Hindu Right and the CBFC. She asserts that the Hindu Right did not simply seek to cut or ban objectionable content. Rather, it mobilized the mechanism of censorship to imagine a nation "predicated on a series of exclusions" that included the "Muslim, the sexual female subject, the poor, the rural, the lower caste and even the West." Charting a course parallel to Bose's, Tessa Dwyer and Ioana Uricaru show how the Romanian state (during its communist avatar) employed censorship as a key mechanism for securing and defining its cultural and political borders. More specifically, they explain how Romanian state censorship regulated foreign films by mistranslating dialogues in subtitles; this practice produced a double spectatorship. The arrival of video posed a significant challenge to this state censorship, for it allowed viewers to watch pirated foreign films in the privacy of their homes; thus, technology assisted in circumventing the state's authority. Despite their poor quality, the pirated videos were viewed as "authentic" because they had not been subject to state censorship.
Even as these articles pave fresh paths for the study of censorship and regulation, methodological oversights persist that limit our understanding of censorship. For example, these articles primarily rely on archival research and secondary scholarly sources; they do not include textual analysis or qualitative fieldwork. Consequently, they overlook the possibility of films themselves figuring as key participants in debates of censorship. For example, Cronin argues that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and media-effects theorists presume that the spectator can only succumb to the seductive powers of the image. She rightly states that this assumption omits the possibility that the spectator might resist the image or adopt a more complicated stance vis-à-vis it. This argument could be buttressed by examining the spectatorial positions offered by Wolf Creek (2005) and engaging with theories of film spectatorship. Instead, the film text serves only as a mute site of debate.
Archival research in these articles generally highlights controversial media texts. For example, Bose invokes contentious films such as Bombay (1995), Khalnayak (1993), and War and Peace (2002) to make an argument about the Hindu Right's exclusionary national agenda. Thus, censorship emerges as a spectacular exercise of power affiliated with cutting and banning. Her argument neglects nondivisive texts such as Dilwale dulhania le jayenge (1995), which was certified by the CBFC and was crucial to (re)imagining the nation. Here, by paying attention to the mundane practice of certification, we see that censorship not only excludes but also includes.
This point links to my final concern: that these articles cast censorship largely as a prohibition, albeit a productive one. Dwyer and Ioana point to practices of modification and excision pursued by Romanian state censors. Similarly, Bose considers only the deletions enforced or demanded by the Hindu Right. Kenna's analysis casts the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a police officer monitoring graphic violence. Cronin misses an opportunity to consider how the British Board of Film Classification uses certification to produce normative spectatorship. These works overlook the micropractices of the state or nongovernmental organizations. In doing so, they unwittingly offer a monolithic vision of these institutions, one that remains synonymous with prohibition. By expanding my methodological tools to include qualitative fieldwork, I was able to obtain an alternative vision of state censorship. More specifically, observing "examining committees" at the CBFC in Bombay, I noted that the routine practices of certification and classification were as central to their operations as was the much-highlighted practice of cutting.
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault illustrates the importance of investigating such micropractices. Through painstaking attention to architectural details and movements of the body, he shows how disciplinary power permeates prisons, armies, and schools. By tracking this banal exercise of power at seemingly incongruous sites, Foucault is able to dismantle the fiction of the free, sovereign individual. His analysis invites us to direct our scholarly lenses to such practices so that we may generate material histories of both institutions and industries and place them in conversation with one another. Following Foucault, I craft the tale of censorship with an eye to the mobile practices of cutting, classifying, and certifying. I not only examine how these techniques are deployed at the site of state censorship, where I initially discovered them, but also track their application in the arenas of film production and reception.
A Tale of Excision and Prohibition
During my fieldwork a number of officials whom I interviewed advised me to read Aruna Vasudev's Liberty and Licence in Indian Cinema (1978), a book they viewed as a valuable study and critique of film censorship in India. Several scholarly articles and book chapters on film censorship in India have appeared in the more than thirty years since its publication, but not until 2009, when Someswar Bhowmik's Cinema and Censorship: The Politics of Control in India came out, did another scholar offer a sustained engagement with the question of film censorship in India. Vasudev's work has clearly enjoyed both a scholarly longevity and an institutional resonance. Despite its seminal status, however, and its impact in the corridors of state bureaucracy, this work has received little scholarly scrutiny. While later studies have drawn on the historical insights of Vasudev's work, they have neglected to examine its implicit theoretical framework (i.e., its construction of the state as a monolith and censorship as an act of prohibition) and its methodology—namely, its reliance on state archives, specifically government reports and parliamentary debates. In failing to interrogate this work, these studies have often reproduced the vision of censorship laid out by Vasudev. In contrast to Vasudev, I complicate the concept of the state by analyzing its micropractices and decenter it by considering other loci of power—specifically, the sites of film production and reception; in addition, I argue that censorship is productive.
In the next few pages I closely examine Vasudev's work, which enables me both to critique her work and to outline my own theoretical framework. The publication of Liberty and Licence in Indian Cinema coincided with two major political events, the end of the Emergency and the Janata Party's decisive victory in parliamentary elections. The Emergency, which lasted from 1975 until 1977, was known for its political excesses, including censorship of the media. Some familiarity with this event is crucial for understanding Vasudev's book, because it shapes her argument about censorship—just as, perhaps, the context of economic liberalization in India and the ensuing debates on sexuality mold my account of censorship.
In recounting the conditions and circumstances that produced the Emergency in 1975, Paul Brass focuses on Indira Gandhi's "distinctive strategy of rulership." This style of leadership, Brass explains, was "highly personalized and centralized and . . . involved unprecedented assertions of executive power in the Indian political system." Gandhi's particular brand of leadership transformed the character of center-state governmental relations in the states controlled by her party, the Congress (R). For example, Gandhi removed every chief minister who had an independent base in a state and replaced each with chief ministers who, lacking an independent base, were completely loyal to her. In 1973–1974, food shortages and rising prices combined with local political grievances produced popular demonstrations and movements. The chief ministers appointed by Gandhi were unable to address these issues, for their lack of independent bases left them with little authority.
Furthermore, some members of Parliament in the Congress Party became increasingly discontented with Gandhi's economic policies. In March 1974 a new and ominous political development occurred as Jayaprakash Narayan took up the leadership of the Bihar agitation and offered to lead a countrywide movement against corruption—and against Gandhi's authoritarian rule. In the midst of these developments threatening Gandhi's authority, the Allahabad High Court found Gandhi's 1971 election invalid on grounds of corrupt practices. Soon after this ruling, forces opposed to Gandhi came together to plan a mass mobilization demanding her resignation.
Two weeks after the high court's ruling, on June 26, 1975, Gandhi acted to remove all threats to her leadership. All her principal opponents, including members of her own party, were arrested. Upon her demand, the president of India declared an Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. A twenty-point program was announced, emphasizing reforms for the poor and the landless. Parliament quickly passed new electoral laws superseding the laws under which Gandhi had been found guilty and her election voided. As the entire country came under Delhi's direct rule, Gandhi announced that the imposition of state-of-emergency strictures was simply a temporary measure to restore law and order.
Two infamous programs, the sterilization program and the beautification of Delhi, were instituted during this period "to improve" the conditions in the country. Under the sterilization program, for example, male government employees with more than three children were to be denied benefits such as government housing if they failed to undergo vasectomies. Some states were given quotas for the program. To meet their quotas, officials would often herd the poorer members of the populace—in particular men—and subject them to forced sterilizations. The poor were also the targets of the "beautification of Delhi," which consisted of razing their residences so as to clear the city of its "slums." Both the slum residents and pavement dwellers were ordered to move and given new housing, usually miles from their places of work, making it difficult for them to find employment. Many of these demolitions and forced resettlements especially affected the Muslim communities.
During this period, state censorship prevented all forms of mass media from representing the government and its policies in a "negative" light. The state's exercise of censorship was a supreme act of control that sought to guarantee or prohibit certain meanings. However, this act produced unintended effects. Under these repressive conditions, underground magazines, fliers, and most of all rumors flourished, disseminating information against Gandhi's government. When Indira Gandhi eventually called elections in 1977, she lost, and the Janata Party, headed by Morarji Desai, assumed political leadership. Some argue that Indira Gandhi lost the elections because she was unaware of the extent of the public's discontent and anger against her government's policies. Despite the lack of open dissent in the mass media, the Indian public had been able to acquire information from other sources and, judging from the election results, seemed quite convinced about the undesirability of continuing with Congress rule.
Vasudev's Liberty and License in Indian Cinema represents an important liberal-democratic attempt to intervene in Indian politics immediately following the Emergency. In her book Vasudev denounces the Emergency by drawing attention to the state's repressive powers. She characterizes the Emergency as an interruption in "an otherwise continuous pursuit of democratic freedoms since Independence in 1947" and concludes that "as such, it need not enter into the wider context of a general survey of control over the cinema." The Emergency, in her opinion, was an aberration useful only insofar as "it illustrated graphically the total vulnerability of cinema to pressures from the central government and the distortions that can take place when decisions are based on individual, personal or narrow political considerations." The "application of censorship," she emphasizes, "lost all semblance of rationale and logic. It was used as a stick to beat the industry with." For Vasudev, the Emergency was simply a detour from the smooth course of independent India's democratic history, and the state's heavy-handed control of the media served simply to illustrate the dissolution of democratic rights during this period. By reducing the Emergency to an outlier on the bell curve of censorship practices throughout history, Vasudev trivializes this event and thereby sustains the myth of democracy that existed prior to and after the Emergency; in doing so, she loses the opportunity to interrogate the very democratic conditions and circumstances that produced the Emergency.
As a critique situated in a liberal-democratic framework, Vasudev's conception of the law and its operation is limited to the exercise of "government control." In her introduction, Vasudev lays out the issues that she explores in the work's subsequent pages, asking, "what are the reasons and need for its [censorship's] continuation, in what manner has it interfered with the liberty of the filmmaker and to what extent has it hampered the flowering of this huge cinematic output into a form of art[?]" Drawing on official guidelines, government reports, parliamentary debates, and legal documents, she recounts laws created and administered by the colonial and postcolonial states as well as challenges to these laws by the film industry and the citizenry. Both the questions that drive her work and the sources for addressing these questions assume that censorship is a prohibition dictated by the state.
Vasudev denounces the practice of censorship during colonial rule, drawing attention to policies designed to justify and maintain that rule in India. As the discussion proceeds to postindependence India, Vasudev does not question the postcolonial state's decision to retain film censorship. She is critical of particular policies and practices of the postcolonial state, but she accepts that the institution of censorship is a political necessity in a complex democratic society. Censorship, in Vasudev's view, assists the democratic state in managing differences within the nation. In discussing the wide and varied viewership of popular Hindi films, Vasudev sympathizes with the censors, who must make sure that "nothing is portrayed which could offend religious, communal, or regional sensibilities." She expresses concern about the effects of popular Hindi films on rural populations, claiming that "the glamourization and unrealistic portrayal of city life" distorts the outlook of villagers. Moreover, such representation, she asserts, does "great harm to the vital and stated national goal of discouraging migration to the city." She urges the state to develop a better cinema, one that is in concert with its policies for modernization and social welfare.
On the one hand, Vasudev repeatedly voices her disapproval of Bombay cinema's narratives; on the other hand, she notes that, at least in part, censorship causes the distorted character of these narratives. She explains that if the "sweeping" nature of the censorship guidelines were interpreted strictly, they "would result in almost all films being banned." These "sweeping restrictions," she elaborates, have "driven producers to resort to indirect, unrealistic, suggestive modes of expression which are often vulgar and unaesthetic and convey the precise impression that the authorities hoped to eradicate." In discussing the representations of sexuality in popular films, she acknowledges that "Indian producers did frequently film the female anatomy in a manner that was lewd and vulgar, and costumes were designed to heighten the effect." At the same time, she concedes that these representations emerged in a climate where "the depiction of normal relationship between the sexes was denied," prompting producers to resort to other devices. She concludes that "where honesty and frankness had to be replaced by suggestiveness, the result was bound to be either puerile, or offensive." Vasudev's discussion begs the question as to what constitutes an honest and frank representation of sexuality. According to her argument, such a representation would reflect reality, the "real" social order. The "real" assumes a status of self-evident truth—and censorship stands in the way of representing this truth.
At the end of her work, Vasudev proposes a balance between freedom and restriction—in a word, reform. She urges the government to make an effort to understand the cinema and to harness its potential for the purposes of development. Furthermore, she insists that the state recognize that popular films are not simply entertaining but in fact "carry information on values, behaviours and social mores, from which people will learn." Censorship, she contends, needs to regulate the kind of information that these films impart. In particular, she refers to films that belittle women's education or offer a "glamourized and unrealistic portrayal of the city." While she advises the state to police narratives produced by Bombay cinema, she recommends a more liberal interpretation of the censorship code for art films and applauds the central government's decisions to certify controversial films such as Garam hawa (1973; Hot winds) and Samskara (1970; The sacrament). She concludes by commending the exercise of censorship in India and by encouraging efforts toward better relations between the state and the cinema—and better censorship.
Later in her career, Vasudev sought to promote better cinema as the founder and editor of Cinemaya, a journal devoted to examining art cinema in Asia. She became the president of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, organizing film festivals in India. She also served as a member of the Film Appellate Tribunal, an advisory committee that examined films that had been refused certification by the examining and revising committees. In fact, she was one of the three members who supported the ban on Pati parmeshwar 1989)—which I analyze in Chapter 6—because she believed that the film promoted women's servility. In supporting this ban, she sought to make a progressive political intervention.
Annette Kuhn's perspicacious book Cinema, Censorship and Sexuality radically reimagines the field of censorship and helps us spot the oversights in Vasudev's work. Kuhn's work focuses on the emergence of film censorship in Britain and investigates "institutions and practices involved in the constitution of cinema as a public sphere of regulation." Through a meticulous analysis of specific case studies, Kuhn shows how acts of censorship categorized and defined both films and audiences in Britain, all the while shoring up a bourgeois morality. Employing a Foucauldian approach, she argues that by focusing on the state and its apparatus, many scholarly works (including Vasudev's) assume censorship to be the duty of the censors specifically and the domain of the state more generally. My analysis of Liberty and Licence shows that in localizing power in the state and its apparatus, Vasudev could describe power only in terms of repression and prohibition. Such a description suggests a limited understanding of power. To assume that power "only prohibits or represses," Kuhn aptly writes, "is to forget that power also has productive effects." Moreover, she reminds us, works on censorship that concentrate on the state overlook other sites where power operates. In doing so, such studies assume that power is a privilege of the state or the particular institutions earmarked to administer censorship guidelines.
Following Foucault, Kuhn argues for a model of power as diffuse, one made possible by analyzing specific case histories; she rejects analyses that examine only macrolevel polices of institutions, which simply reassert the dominant position of institutions by placing them at the heart of accounts on censorship. Kuhn's framework thus rescues films from a subordinate position in scholarship on censorship and relocates them at the center of her case histories. Whereas films appear in Vasudev's work largely as "cuts," for Vasudev either identifies particular films that were cut or notes the parts that were cut, in Kuhn's case histories they transform into active participants in discussions on censorship. These case histories both demonstrate that the field of censorship is multivocal and complicate the place of the state and other regulatory institutions in the study of censorship. Thus, censorship emerges as a dynamic activity. Taking my cues from Foucault and Kuhn, I seek to show that power is a relation and not a possession by placing state censorship in dialogue with film production and reception. Moreover, like Kuhn, I advocate a case-study approach since it makes visible both ties and ruptures among different players in the history of censorship.
My account, however, diverges from Kuhn's in certain methodological and theoretical aspects. Even as Kuhn interrogates the prohibition model of censorship, her focus on spectacular aspects of censorship (i.e., cutting and controversy) ties her to this model's penchant for constructing censorship as an act of "excision" or "cutting-out." Thus, censorship remains a prohibition, but one that has "productive effects." The manner whereby Kuhn deploys Foucault's insights has had an enduring legacy in film studies; for example, Theresa Cronin's previously mentioned article illustrates the resilience of this method. In contrast, my work foregrounds banal aspects of censorship—namely, certification and classification—and seeks to cast cutting as quotidian. Unlike Kuhn, who primarily relies on textual analysis and archival research, I augment these methodological tools with qualitative fieldwork. By watching examining committees at work, I recognized the significance of classification and certification as well as the ubiquitous nature of cutting. My observations compelled me to mobilize a Foucauldian term underdeveloped in film studies, namely, micropractices.
The insights that I gained via qualitative fieldwork affected my archival research and selection of films. Kuhn's archival research highlights explicit and divisive discussions on sexuality through its focus on sex-hygiene films. While I share Kuhn's interest in examining spectacular forms of sexuality, my eclectic selection of films expands the scope of both censorship and sexuality by investigating normative and less visible representations, such as the (re)production of kinship relations and tradition and the self-sacrificial woman. Paralleling Kuhn's work, my analysis of Khalnayak's provocative song "Choli ke kya peeche kya hai?" (What is behind the blouse?) illustrates that a censored text can become marketable precisely because the act of censorship is known. Unlike Kuhn, however, I also demonstrate, through my examination of the figure of the self-sacrificial woman in Pati parmeshwar, that censorship does not always produce desire or profits. Finally, Kuhn's work suggests that both the range and impact of debates on censorship were limited to Britain as nation. In contrast, my postcolonial account, which is indebted to Vasudev's historical research, demonstrates that the location for discussions on censorship, its development as an institution, and its effects extended to the colonies of the British Empire and shaped postcolonial states. Metropole and colony were mutually though not equally constitutive.
In summary, Vasudev's work provides a macrolevel view of censorship, focusing on parliamentary debates over state regulation, but neglects its microlevel operations. Kuhn offers us a more detailed account of censorship by examining specific cases, but she does not examine how organizations such as the licensing authorities or the BBFC performed their work. In both cases, the everyday work of institutions of censorship remains unclear and limited to prohibition. In contrast, my theoretical framework, which is forged in dialogue with Foucault and attends to micropractices—namely, cutting, classifying, and certifying—reconceptualizes censorship. My examination of the CBFC and of the legal documents, correspondence, and reports of examining committees, revising committees, the Film Appellate Tribunal, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shows that the practices of cutting, classifying, and certifying are central to the workings of state censorship. As I demonstrate through my film analyses, these techniques do not belong solely to the state but also surface in the domains of film production and reception. Thus, I argue that state censorship, production, and reception share one characteristic: selection.
In India, producers bring their films to the CBFC, where an examining committee views them and, if deemed necessary, demands certain cuts be made. My investigations into Gupt gyan and Pati parmeshwar show that in demanding cuts, state censorship seeks to legislate not only decency but also taste. The examining committee then certifies the film according to categories such as "U" (unrestricted exhibition), "UA" (exhibition restricted to those twelve and above), "A" (exhibition restricted to adults), and "S" (exhibition restricted to specialists); it also has the authority to refuse certification. In the chapters devoted to Satyam shivam sundaram and Dilwale dulhania le jayenge, I show how processes of certification regulate not just morality but also a film's potential markets. The committee also classifies films according to categories such as "short film" (which includes newsreels, educational films, documentaries, children's films, scientific films, trailers, advertisements, and feature films) and "long film" (which includes features, children's features, and documentaries). In the case of feature films, it also assigns a "thematic classification" ("social," "historical," "biographical," "mythological," "devotional," "legendary," "horror," "fantasy,' "action/thriller," "crime," "satire," "comedy," "spoof," and "adventure"). In the chapters on Gupt gyan and Dilwale dulhania le jayenge, I demonstrate how genre classification becomes pivotal in a film's evaluation and its certifications (or decertifications). In the case of Gupt gyan, the censors' inability to classify the film led to the production of a new category—the previously mentioned S certificate. My work expands the discussions on genre by drawing attention to ways in which the state deploys and generates genre classification. Cutting, classifying, and certifying constitute the mechanisms through which films are marked and a proper audience is designated for them.
If the examining committee cannot reach consensus or the producer refuses its decision, the film is referred to a revising committee, which performs a similar exercise. If a decision is not reached at this level, it is passed on to the Film Appellate Tribunal; from there it can go to the head of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and finally to the judiciary. I describe the extreme case to underscore that the practice of censorship is divided and hierarchical. This diffusion of power enables the system to function and allows spaces for intervention—and corruption.
But cuts emerge from sources other than censors, too, which further underscores the diffuse nature of power. Editing is central to the process of filmmaking; the first cuts are those made by directors and film editors. The examining and revising committees, the film critics, and the audience have their say at later points. Cutting thus does not occur in a linear, uncomplicated fashion. Moreover, it is not driven simply by creative impulses. The so-called director's cut is often hailed as a creative endeavor, an intact masterpiece, but my work shows that directors base many of their editorial decisions on considerations of finances, distributors, exhibitors, censors, critics, and audiences, to name a few factors. At various stages of film production, they make choices about the story, cast, music, film or sound editing, and so on for reasons other than aesthetic ones. In addition, because Indian filmmakers are well aware of the state's censorship guidelines and practices, these guidelines and practices inform film production all along. Indian directors and producers often push these guidelines by inserting more sex scenes (hoping that some will be passed), bribing committee members, using powerful allies to bolster their case, and finding alternative ways to represent sexuality: the drenched heroine, the almost-kiss, and the "cabaret dance." The final product, the film that audiences and film critics see, then, results from a series of complex creative and regulatory selections. If state censorship seeks to guarantee a certain reading through the act of excision, then filmmakers similarly attempt to frame our vision through the technology of the camera, film editing, and the insertion of an intermission, as well as ancillary elements such as trailers, soundtracks, and promotional documentaries showing behind-the-scene footage and interviews.
Once a Hindi film is exhibited or even before, at the release of the soundtrack, critics and audiences voice their opinions about the it; this commentary adds to the way a film is understood. My analyses of Satyam shivam sundaram and Khalnayak, where calls to eliminate scenes emerged at the site of reception rather than within government, demonstrate that the viewers who watch these films are not passive consumers. Considering that 85 percent of commercial films in India flop, 10 percent recover their costs, and only 5 percent earn profits, audiences, who decide which films to watch and, as my analysis of Dilwale dulhania le jayenge shows, even which portions to watch, exert considerable influence on content. In fact, the film financiers and producers use public choice as an important index for financing and making new films. This large cast involved in discussions on cinema generates a verbose commentary on both the manner in which films portray social customs and mores and the role of cinema in society. My theoretical framework enables an analysis of these multivocal debates and varied selections.
Debating and (Re)viewing Sexuality
Sexuality has been a key site for disputes on film censorship in India; Vasudev, among others, has argued that censorship suppresses sexuality. These disputes include, above all else, debates concerning whether representations of sexuality will harm, deprave, or corrupt children or those "whose minds are open to such immoral influences"; whether the representation of sexuality is consonant with or contrary to Indian tradition; whether "double standards" for judging Indian films and foreign films maintain Indian values, preserve colonial puritanism, or reinforce a patriarchal status quo; and whether this national prudishness in any way affects the state's (and a portion of the public's) much desired goal—to be modern and democratic. These discussions and, more generally, the practices of state censorship frame cinema as a national object and therefore demand a continued investigation into the concept of "national cinema."
The representation of sexuality as part of or opposed to "Indian tradition" occupies a central place in debates on film censorship. A well-known journalist and a former member of an examining committee, Kobita Sarkar, contends that the prohibition on such representations is a residue of a puritanical colonialism. She wonders, what led Indians to "import British values and impose them on [their] audiences, whose approach and outlook are so radically different? Where nudity in real life is a commonplace in our villages, or among the poor, why do we have this strange puritanical reaction (which is today being discarded in the West itself)?" In addition to pointing to "nudity in real life," Sarkar also gestures toward the culture's tradition of erotic sculpture and painting, demanding, "why is nudity or at least partial undress, which is perfectly consonant with our culture . . . , dealt with so harshly?" The thrust of Sarkar's argument reveals how a dispute on the representation of sexuality connects to a larger concern about defining Indian culture. Firoze Rangoonwalla, a prominent film critic, offers a response to Sarkar's rhetorical question: "Using the parallel of statues to claim censor freedom is also false. The statues are seen in their historical milieu and perspective by a select minority which goes on costly touristic visits. But the screen can bring the erotica, in blazing color, to every town and village." Rangoonwalla's explanation presupposes a division between a "select minority" and the unruly masses, a split that reinforces class inequity. What kind of erotica did Rangoonwalla fear would be available to all? In Bombay commercial cinema, scenes that have been identified as sexual, incited debate, or been excised from a film have generally shown kissing, scantily clad female bodies, close-up shots of female breasts and thighs, and female nudity. It is the female body that has been marked as the sexual body and the body that must bear the burden of Indian tradition. Conversely, until the late 1980s, the male body had not been sexualized via the media. While male nudity has never been sanctioned, recent displays of bare, well-toned male chests or scantily clad men have not been fodder for debate.
A cursory glance at another charged censorship issue, violence, reveals the gendered nature of censorship debates. In discussions on violence in Bombay commercial cinema, no one questions whether it is part of Indian tradition, and no one seeks to use Mohandas Gandhi's arguments concerning the tradition of nonviolence in India to combat the rise of representations of violence. The fact that concerns about representations of violence are not framed in the context of Indian tradition raises a set of interesting issues: How is violence defined? Which body is associated with violence? In commercial films, scenes are identified as violent if they contain fighting, shooting, blood, and gore. Generally, such scenes are performed by male heroes and villains; their struggles determine the fate of the heroine, the family, and the nation. In patriarchal discourse, male bodies occupy the status of subjects. These bodies are not the object or the site of debate on tradition. In discussions on violence, neither tradition nor national identity rears its head; both, however, are central to debates on sexuality.
The ubiquitous charge of "double standards" that the film industry, journalists, and the public level at the CBFC refers to the different standards used to censor Indian and foreign films (read as "Western" films); more "explicit" sex scenes are allowed in the latter. The CBFC and the policy makers explain this practice by referring to the different cultural traditions of the West and of India: different traditions demand different standards of judgment. For example, in an interview in a popular film magazine, Star and Style, a former minister of information and broadcasting, K. K. Shah, notes:
There is no double standard in the Censor Board. Those who speak of it forget that film is a product of a certain socio-cultural setting and it has to be judged in this context. Certain practices, mores and manners prevail in certain societies, which may be frowned upon by members of other societies with "holier than thou" attitudes and denounced as immoral, etc. But here lies the rub—it is not so much what is shown but how it is shown that is of vital importance. Obviously some representations are improper and are very likely to arouse passions and aggressive tendencies which cannot be encouraged. Indians, by and large, are less given to excessive expression of feelings of lust for example. This is a matter of training and what is considered acceptable in good society—that's all. There is therefore no reason why Indian films should be encouraged to inculcate wrong notions about our ways or accelerate tendencies which we regard as harmful.
According to Shah, then, Western audiences can routinely absorb an amount of cinematically represented lust that could have an adverse effect on Indian audiences, who are not used to such an "excessive expression" of it. This explanation ostensibly claims that in employing varied standards to judge films, censors simply bring a cultural and social sensitivity to dissimilar contexts of production and reception. The explanation demonstrates that cultural difference is central to the construction of Indian national identity; this identity is forged partly in relation to the West.
An anonymous writer disagrees with Shah's explanation:
If censorship is to be enforced on sound democratic lines and for the good of the masses, the censors cannot pick and choose producers and artists for the use of their official yard-stick. Thus, under the same adopted code, adapted to suit the convenience of the members, different adaptations are followed. One code is applied in censoring foreign movies, the second code for Raj Kapoor films (lenient censoring, example Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai [The Country in which the Ganges flows]) and the third for the other Indian movies.
This writer draws attention to the fact that censors not only distinguish between foreign films and Indian films but also use different criteria to judge films made by well-known producers and directors and those made by lesser-known ones. Apparently, works from respected filmmakers, such as Raj Kapoor, receive treatment different from that accorded to works by filmmakers who are less well known or well established. The censors thus seem to attend not just to sociocultural setting but also to a director's social status, thus creating a hierarchy in which sexual scenes in films by respected and powerful directors were characterized as aesthetically pleasing but the similar scenes in other films were denounced as vulgar and obscene. In short, such practices reveal that the censors' assessment of a director's symbolic capital (to use Pierre Bourdieu's concept) is crucial in making aesthetic and moral judgments about a film.
Whereas the writer who points to the censors' use of multiple standards demands that films be treated equally, Chidananda Das Gupta, a noted maker of "art" films and a film critic, argues that "the attempt to apply the same standards to all films irrespective of their integrity, moral and artistic value has turned film censorship in India into a farce of measurements." He elaborates:
Whether it is overtly admitted or not, some element of quality judgment is inevitable in intelligent censorship. Unless the principle is admitted that the need and the justification of frankness in a film is in the honesty and integrity of a film and not on the boundaries of what is physically shown, it is useless even to discuss the reform of censorship. Liberalization without this understanding would only mean a greater amount of "exploitation" and sensationalism in commercial cinema; stringent regulation will prevent the honest artistic film of controversy or love from being made.
In calling for "intelligent censorship"—basically, a system where art films would be judged more liberally—Das Gupta reproduces a hierarchical division between art and commercial cinema in which the former is imbued with honesty and integrity and the latter is characterized as exploitative and sensationalist. Interestingly, many of the censors share the views presented by Das Gupta, producing an odd alliance between the censors and the supporters of art or progressive films.
Much of the "double standards" debate has focused on these issues. Kobita Sarkar points to an often overlooked arena in the practice of double standards:
While on the subject of double standards, isn't it strange that no one has objected to the double standards of behaviour in judging a "hero" and "heroine" over the same misdeed in the Indian cinema? The heroine of Bhumika [Foundation] who wanted to lead her own life gets an "A" [exhibition restricted to adults] certificate for doing the same things that many a film hero has done. He not only gets a "U" [unrestricted exhibition] certificate, but a lot of applause as well for a similar outlook!
In gesturing to the different standards used to judge the actions of heroes and heroines, Sarkar broadens the debate on censorship by inviting us to consider how the practice of censorship is gendered. Her comments also suggest that the practice of gendered standards is not limited to the censors. Rather, the audiences also employ such standards. Furthermore, her remarks reveal the pivotal role of certification in generating such gendered evaluations.
Determining whether the practice of censorship is democratic constitutes another contentious issue central to these debates. Arguing that this practice is undemocratic, Boyd explains that the prerelease censorship of films fetters filmmakers' imaginations and that there is little "opportunity for public appraisal and criticism of a system of prior restraint because it operates behind a veil of informality and partial concealment. Hence, the policies and procedures of licensing authorities do not as frequently come to public attention and the reasons for such official action are less likely to be known and criticised." Unlike books or artworks, films are subject to censorship before they enter the public domain. This regulation is undertaken by the examining committees, which include select members of the public, generally middle-class and well-educated individuals. This practice not only regulates what viewers see but, more important, screens its own operations. Those defending censorship claim that it guards public morals and point out that the decisions of the examining committee are subject to appeal. To bolster their claims, they point to other states that also use various methods to regulate cinema to protect their citizens. Censorship becomes a practice that constitutes the state and its relations with its citizens. In tracking these discourses, we can see how female sexuality is fundamentally tied to notions of being Indian. Furthermore, censorship is central to clarifying conceptions of the state, democracy, and liberalism. Finally, it is crucial for the (re)production of the state. After all, the state makes its case for intervening precisely by constructing the film spectator as a vulnerable child or a member of a lower class or group that is inclined toward prurience. Moreover, such classifications assist the state in managing potentially unruly cinema audiences.
To analyze and interrogate these discourses, I draw on Michel Foucault's work on the history of Western sexuality. Historically, Foucault tells us, there have been two great procedures for producing the "truth of sex." He describes "societies—and they are numerous: China, Japan, India, Rome and the Arabo-Moslem societies—which endowed themselves with an ars erotica" whereby "truth is drawn from pleasure itself." Unlike these societies, he claims, Western societies "practice a scientia sexualis" and over the centuries have developed procedures "for telling the truth of sex which are geared to a form of knowledge-power." In distinguishing between the two approaches, he overlooks two significant issues crucial for understanding the development of sexuality in India. First and foremost, in placing India among societies "which endowed themselves with an ars erotica," Foucault draws on precolonial sources and fails to account for the effects of the colonial encounter. Second, in examining precolonial texts such as the Kamasutra, Foucault does not analyze the social relations that informed the production and reception of this text in precolonial India. An examination of these relations reveals that far from being an emancipatory text, the Kamasutra was shaped by and reproduced unequal gender relations. Although Foucault suggests the story of repression is primarily a Western one, this narrative appears in debates on sexuality in India as well. For this reason, I find Foucault's insight that repression should be read afresh as an incitement to discourse useful in illuminating debates on film censorship of sexuality in India.
Until the mid-1980s in India, few works focused on the role of the mass media in the social organization of sexuality. Hindi cinema, a major force in Indian mass media, has been pivotal in the social organization of sexuality within and increasingly, in the era of liberalization, beyond the territorial borders of the Indian nation-state. For the most part, feminists and activists have engaged with questions of gender and on-screen sexuality by undertaking campaigns to remove vulgar billboards, protesting against sexist representations of women, making claims linking on-screen gender violence to real-life violence against women, or lamenting that images on-screen do not adequately represent reality. More innovative scholarship demonstrates how the narratives of Bombay cinema produce and disavow female desire and agency: how they depend upon dichotomies such as heroine/vamp and wife/courtesan; how the coordinates of stardom, gender, and culture are pivotal to film narratives and industrial hiring practices; and how the practice of censorship reveals informal pacts between the Indian state, the Bombay film industry, and indigenous patriarchy—pacts made at the expense of female subjectivity. I agree with John and Nair in their assertion that "'sexuality' must connote a way of addressing sexual relations, their spheres of legitimacy and illegitimacy, through the institutions and practices, as well as the discourses and forms of representation, that have long been producing, framing, distributing and controlling the subject of 'sex.'"
In the subsequent pages I draw on and seek to extend these debates. To do so, I situate the story of censorship in a broad social field and trace the intriguing ways that the heated debates on sexuality in Bombay cinema actually produce the very forms of sexuality they claim to regulate. Specifically, I show the counterintuitive ways in which cinematic representations of the female body work to engender India's national identity. The debates on sexuality in newspapers and film magazines betray the fact that film is not simply entertaining but indeed central to constructing everyday sexual practices. Questions that inform my analysis of film censorship of sexuality include the following: What images are identified as sexual and incite debate? How do the censors attempt to regulate sexuality? What scenes or acts are characterized as "obscene" or "vulgar"? Which representations of sexuality are easily certified? Are challenges to these regulations interventions, or are they about the fetishization of sexuality? How do practices of cutting, certifying, and classifying at sites of state censorship, film production, and film reception differentially structure and define female heterosexuality?
In this chapter, I have outlined the contours of the debates on film censorship of sexuality and provided an analytic framework for situating those debates. The next chapter turns to the history of film censorship, focusing on the representation of sexuality, and provides a macrolevel view as well as a critique of the postcolonial state. This enables me to offer a counterhistory via my ethnographic encounters as well as the specific case studies in the later chapters. In Chapter 3 I use fieldwork anecdotes to present an account of the microprocesses of censorship. I borrow Arendt's notion of the art of storytelling and Foucault's strategic use of description as means for creating effects. My intentions here are twofold: first, to foreground routine, arbitrary, unstitched, and intentional practices in the process of censorship; second, to disturb a disciplinary mode of constructing and presenting an argument. The techniques of storytelling and description enable me to gesture toward uncanny resemblances among censorship, scholarship, and film production. In drawing attention to a set of formal and formulaic actions shared by this trio, I show that power is neither distant nor extraordinary.
In the next five chapters I focus on a specific period, 1973 to 1996, analyzing Gupt gyan, Satyam shivam sundaram, Pati parmeshwar, Khalnayak, and Dilwale dulhania le jayenge. In examining these films, I seek to question conventional understandings of both censorship and sexuality. Released in the 1970s, both Gupt gyan and Satyam shivam sundaram stretched the representation of sexuality on Indian screens. Gupt gyan confounded officials as well as examining and revising committees by using elements from the documentary and feature film genres to craft a narrative about the importance of sex education. Its innovative topic rendered Gupt gyan subject to bureaucratic shunting. Its not-so-powerful director-producer, B. K. Adarsh, drew on the support of more influential figures to navigate the rough waters of state censorship. After much wrangling and numerous cuts, the film was released in 1974 and met with success at the box office. Soon afterward Indira Gandhi's government declared a state of emergency, and Gupt gyan, among other films, was banned. It was rereleased only after the Janata Party gained control of the government, promising freedom of speech. Ironically, under the Janata Party's reign, Gupt gyan underwent cuts more severe than those demanded in its first review, revealing that the newly ensconced party shared its predecessor's concerns about the effects of cinema and sought to regulate them via censorship.
Unlike Adarsh's film, the famed Raj Kapoor's Satyam shivam sundaram smoothly sailed through the Central Board of Film Censors. However, it encountered brickbats at the site of reception because Kapoor had tampered with audience expectations about Zeenat Aman's and Lata Mangeshkar's status visual and recording stardoms. While both Gupt gyan and Satyam shivam sundaram incited debate because of their explicit representation of sexuality, Pati parmeshwar faced a ban from a much less controversial depiction of a self-sacrificial wife. It shuttled through courts for two years for glorifying woman's servility and was finally released to a damp reception in 1989. The censors' objections to Pati parmeshwar appeared odd because for decades film-examining committees had consistently passed such representations and focused on censoring sexually suggestive images such as close-ups of bosoms, thighs, and gyrating hips. The debates on Pati parmeshwar reveal the contested visions of tradition and modernity that shaped the state and the construction of the "Indian woman."
My analysis of Khalnayak returns to the themes of sexuality, stardom, and sound that inform my examination of Satyam shivam sundaram and relocates them in the context of economic liberalization. I track the nearly censored song "Choli ke peeche kya hai?" as it moved through the CBFC, public reception, legal petition, the music industry, and filmic narrative and demonstrate how each sought to contain female sexuality by framing it as a part of Indian tradition, as immoral Western influence, or as a commodity. The case against Khalnayak reveals the importance of the music industry and technologies such as audiotape cassettes and cable and satellite television in shaping the practice of censorship.
Finally, I turn to Dilwale dulhania le jayenge, which like Khalnayak emerged in the context of economic liberalization. Unlike Khalnayak, however, it does not traffic in "vulgar" or "obscene" lyrics or images. Rather, it portrays a happy union of sanitized and sumptuous tradition with modern consumerism. In examining Dilwale dulhania le jayenge, I seek to broaden and challenge a conventional understanding of censorship, namely, one that associates the practice of censorship with cutting or banning. I highlight a ubiquitous but much less debated aspect of censorship—certification—by analyzing a film that was approvingly characterized by its examining committee as a "family love story" and granted a U certificate, enabling all audiences to see it. These film analyses enable me to highlight both the formal and informal exercises of power by the state, film industry, and audiences; I show how context, technology, and concepts of stardom, spectacle, sound, and genre shape negotiations among the state, film industry, and audiences. I conclude with brief analyses of Censor (2001) and My Name Is Khan (2010) through which I show the continued relevance of my theoretical framework and suggest new avenues for research.
On a final note, I wish to underscore the unpredictable and asymmetrical nature of my filmography, which generates productive juxtapositions, allowing me to chart the diverse locations, strategies, and subjects of censorship. While thematic or historical classifications such as "sex-education films," "art films," "controversial films," or "films from the Emergency" would have yielded a more narrow view of both censorship and sexuality, the broad rubrics underlying my choices—gender and heterosexuality—enabled me to investigate censorship and sexuality from frank, clinical representations of sexuality (e.g., warts on genitalia in Gupt gyan) to sublime marriage (e.g., wedding celebrations in Dilwale dulhania le jayenge).