India debates “certifying” song lyrics

Enemmy movieI’ve seen a few reports lately that India is considering “certifying” song lyrics used in films. Currently, a censor board rates the visual content and dialogues of films to ensure they are only seen by people they deem appropriate (over a certain age).

As part of a review of the censor’s role, someone pointed out that song lyrics escape this review. The Cinematograph Act of 1952 was introduced at a time when there were fewer cinema halls. In addition, the medium of cinema has now undergone a transformation. So the panel, headed by former Chief Justice of the Haryana and Punjab High Court, recommended that the definition of ‘film’ in the Act should be changed to include songs, song lyrics and advertising material.

So basically, the censor board wants to extend its role. It begs the question: if films are rated and restricted, why aren’t songs? But does the board think it is appropriate to rate songs on the radio as well? Because the question then becomes: how do you regulate that? In other words, is it of any real use in this day and age?

In other words, is it of any real use in this day and age?

What are they looking for? In most cases, they are trying avoid shocking the conservative Indian audience. Kissing and physical contact between men and women is carefully regulated, for example. But in a clear breach of their powers, they also recently applied pressure to one director to change the names of girls mentioned in a song in the gangster film “Enemmy”. The names were too close to the first names of well-known Indian actresses for the censors!

Certifying song lyrics worldwide

In the west, we tend to smile when some countries get irritated about inappropriate lyrics. But as several well-known Jamaican performers have found, the system for rooting out homophobic songs is pretty ruthless. Europe also has very strict rules governing incitements to hatred and Holocaust denial. All of these are taken very seriously, despite the fact we tend to consider ourselves very anti-censorship and open.

More about India’s censorship board

Michael Leahy

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One comment to “India debates “certifying” song lyrics”

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