At last, 'A' film minus cuts & blurs

THE DANISH GIRL is a pathbreaker for...  audience rights in india!

By Priyanka Roy and Chandreyee Chatterjee
  • Published 16.01.16
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In an empty theatre green room, Einar Wegener undresses in front of a full-length mirror and hunches his shoulders together to give himself the illusion of breasts. He tucks his privates between his legs to see how he would look with female genitalia, drapes a dress across the front of his body and shifts slightly so that he can see his slender form in the dress.

This minute-long scene with full frontal nudity from Oscar contender The Danish Girl was not downloaded and viewed in private on a laptop... it's playing at your neighbourhood multiplex.

Wow! went a Friday morning watcher at INOX (South City). How did that happen? Has the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) finally grown up?

"It's an attempt to change the image of the CBFC," Pahlaj 'Scissorhands' Nihalani told Metro, after having (for once) watched the film and realised the "relevance" of the nude scenes to the tale of Oscar-nominated Eddie Redmayne's Einar becoming Lili, one of the first known people to undergo sex-reassignation surgery.

What that means is that the censor board chairperson - under fire over the last one year for going ban-ban, cut-cut on many a Holly and Bolly film - has okayed the release of the Tom Hooper film chronicling the story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, in 1920s Copenhagen, with an adult certificate and "zero cuts". So, The Danish Girl's scenes of nudity, transsexuality and kissing have escaped unscathed on Indian screens.

So what changed it for Team Nihalani? "We didn't feel that the nudity in The Danish Girl went overboard and, in fact, it fitted in well with the story. We gave them (producers Universal Pictures) an 'A' certificate without any cuts or blurs and they were happy with it," said the man who had produced B-grade Bolly films in the 1990s.

"Contrary to general perception, we don't censor films blindly. The CBFC is constantly criticised for being harsh on films, but so many Bollywood films last year, like NH10 and Badlapur, were passed with an 'A' certificate and almost no cuts," protested Nihalani.

The Danish Girl, nominated for four Oscars, including acting nods for Redmayne and leading lady Alicia Vikander, contains many a scene that wouldn't have escaped the CBFC scissors even a few months ago. Like a flash of Gerda's (Vikander) buttocks or that scene in which Einar goes to a peepshow in Paris, watches a sex worker stripping and starts emulating her seductive movements....

What Nihalani (again, for once) must have realised is that the full frontal scene brings home Einar's dissatisfaction with his male body and the desire for a woman's form while the scene at the peepshow has him learning the art of female seduction, both integral to the story of Einar's transition to Lili.

Given the protests over the cuts and censorship rampant during Nihalani's term, the I&B ministry recently appointed veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal to form a committee to devise a system of rating films, rather than censoring them.

Giving two-thumbs up to the CBFC (for once) was Zoya Akhtar, on Friday. "All of us filmmakers have been pushing for rating of films, instead of censorship and if this is the first step, then it's a welcome move," the director of films like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do told Metro .

"Allowing The Danish Girl to be screened without cuts is a very positive step and shows that the CBFC is coming of age. Of course, the responsibility on us as exhibitors increases in terms of allowing only mature viewers to walk in for the film," said Subhasis Ganguli, regional director (east) INOX.

So does this mean that the CBFC is finally shedding its 'sanskaari' tag? No such luck if you see and hear what they have done to the other Friday release - The Hateful Eight. The censor certificates of The Danish Girl and The Hateful Eight are a study in contrasts (see above). While the Tarantino Western, set in the years following the American Civil War, has suffered several cuts - from frontal nudity to oral sex to cuss words, despite an 'A' certificate - The Danish Girl has escaped with only a 'no smoking' disclaimer.

" The Hateful Eight invited a lot of cuts because of the gory scenes and violence against women," was how Nihalani took Tarantino to task.

"The violence is less a shock tactic than a sorting mechanism, a way of separating the fans from the scolds. Tarantino has made a career out of forcing critics and cinephiles to choose, knocking the ambivalent off the fence with brilliant barrages of offensive language and mayhem.... At a certain point... The Hateful Eight mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny," writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times (see t2).

But how would Nihalani explain robbing Daniel Craig's James Bond the simple pleasure of mixing business with pleasure (with Monica Bellucci, no less) and gagging the kissing scenes in Spectre last November? "We were okay with not reducing the duration of the kissing scenes and giving Spectre an 'A' certificate but then the producers (Sony Pictures) wanted a U/A certificate because Bond films are shown on TV. They were okay with the cuts we suggested and we gave them a U/A certificate," argued Nihalani.

And finally to our big 2015 boo: last February, Nihalani and Co. had scuttled the release of Fifty Shades of Grey - also produced by Universal Pictures - based on E.L. James's best-selling BDSM novel. Why, we asked him again on Friday.

"I didn't watch the film... but my committee did and they thought, even after repeated viewings, that this isn't a film that can be shown in India because the sex scenes were in abundance," Nihalani insisted again on Friday.

If only Anastasia Steele was a Danish girl.

Are you hopeful that the CBFC will be less scissor-happy in 2016? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com