Fifty Shades is not grey but too hot for Indian censors

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New Delhi, March 5: The censor board has refused to certify the Hollywood film Fifty Shades of Grey for release in India with some members dubbing the 2015 erotic-romantic drama too “hot” for Indian audiences.

The decision, which prompted a member of the board itself to express the fear that it would soon be called a “heavy-handed nanny”, came closed on the heels of an unrelated ban on the telecast of an interview in which a rapist on death-row makes outrageous claims.

Expecting a ban, many people in the country had already downloaded the movie from some websites and watched it.

A five-member panel from the board watched the film, directed by Sam Taylor Johnson, on February 28. They found several sequences in the film — based on the best-selling novel of the same title by British author E.L. James — “too explicit” for Indian audiences, board officials said.

“The panel had problems with both the language and the content of the film and felt that it should not be released in the country,” Shravan Kumar, the chief executive officer of the Central Board of Film Certification, said.

On March 3, the board conveyed to the film’s distributors, Universal Pictures, that the film would not be certified.

The filmmakers and distributors have the right to appeal and ask a revision panel of the board to reconsider the decision on the film, which has also faced a ban in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Kenya and opposition from sections of the public in the US.

The film and the book, the first instalment in the Fifty Shades trilogy, traces the relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a business tycoon Christian Grey.

The American Family Association (AFA) had in February called on theatres to reject Fifty Shades, released in the US on the Valentine’s Day weekend. The AFA had said in a media release that the movie included scenes of abuse, bondage, dominance, submission and sadism.

But a website tracking the market performance of movies suggests Fifty Shades has already grossed over $149 million in the US alone. The movie has grossed over $486 million in global sales so far.

An email query sent to Universal Pictures, asking whether they will appeal to the revising committee, remained unanswered till Thursday evening.

CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani was not available for comment but a senior board member said the examining committee should have suggested “cuts” rather than outright rejection of the film.

“Filmmakers always have the option of appealing against the examining committee, but denying the certification altogether is ridiculous,” said the board member who was recently appointed by the Narendra Modi government along with Nihalani and seven others.

“The board will earn the title of a heavy-handed nanny through decisions like this one,” the member said.

The censor board was recently at the centre of a controversy after Nihalani issued an order asking the CBFC’s regional offices not to clear films with profanities and cuss words. But the order had to be withdrawn after other board members also objected to it and the information and broadcasting ministry intervened.

The word “Bombay” was also part of the list sent out by Nihalani for “ban” with 27 other words and innuendoes.

However, sources in the CBFC said that despite the rollback, some words are routinely cut from films. The word “lesbian” was also edited out from Sharat Kataria’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha– featuring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar — that opened to rave reviews last week.

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