Indian Network Pulls Plug on TV Premiere of 'The Dirty Picture' After Government Intervention

Balaji Telefilms
Vidya Balan in "The Dirty Picture"

The award-winning film's primetime debut Sunday was stalled when a ministry directed the channel to air it after 11pm due to adult content despite more than 50 edits.

NEW DELHI – The television premiere of critically acclaimed hit The Dirty Picture turned into a messy affair Sunday when its primetime screening was stalled at the last minute by India's Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Released last December, The Dirty Picture is apparently inspired by the real-life story of Eighties South Indian screen siren Silk Smitha. Produced by Balaji Telefilms, the film stars actress Vidya Balan who received multiple honors for her performance, including the government's National Award for best actress.

While the film has been released on DVD, its TV debut on Hindi channel Sony Entertainment Television (SET)  was a much awaited event, for which the network had run an advertising campaign. The Dirty Picture was scheduled for two screenings Sunday, at noon and the primetime 8 p.m. slot. While its theatrical version was given an A (Adults Only) censor certificate, the film had been re-edited for television with over 50 cuts to get a revised U/A (Parental Gudiance Suggested) certificate.

But a last-minute directive from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry instructed SET to only air the movie after 11 p.m., a slot reserved for content deemed for adult viewing. Instead of airing the movie, SET ran a ticker message stating: "For unavoidable reasons we regret to inform The Dirty Picture will not be telecast today. Any inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”

While The Dirty Picture does not show any graphic nudity, the film had run into controversies even before its theatrical release for its bold portrayal of a struggling starlet making it big as a sex symbol. Last week, a lawyer from the central Indian town of Nagpur filed a court order seeking a ban on the film's telecast since it “contained obscene shots.” But the High Court cleared SET to go ahead with the screening after the I&B Ministry and the Central Board of Film Certification stated that the film had been re-edited with over 50 cuts.
“Whatever is shown on TV - whether it is a film, a serial or a commercial - has to be as per the program code of the Cable Television Network Regulation Act. As per the code, films that have U/A rating can be shown on TV... Some films have adult themes and the treatment and public perception is such that even after making many cuts the film retains its mature theme,” CBFC CEO Pankaja Thakur told a newspaper defending the government's directive to reschedule the film after 11 p.m.. But Thakur also added that the incident will force the CBFC “to look at the whole process of cutting an adult film to make it suitable to be watched by children.”

However, the episode sparked a major outcry. “I am shocked and disappointed that this decision was taken at the last moment. What is even more shocking is that the decision of the censor board was overruled by the ministry,” said the film's director Milan Luthria."When promos and other films with U/A certificate can be shown on television why can't my film? Are we not grown up as a society, why do we have to submit ourselves to external forces?"

The debate went online with leading Bollywood personalities posting messages on Twitter. “A National Award winning film cannot have a national telecast? This is not an irony, but plain and simple hypocrisy! If the censorship (board) is not a final authority then what is? Complicated and blurred lines defeat the core of democracy,” said a message by one of Bollywood's leading filmmakers, Karan Johar.

“We are distressed given that this is among the most celebrated and loved films of last year,” said Balaji Telefilms CEO Tanuj Garg. "I am not sure how Vidya Balan (along with two of the film's crew members) will feel about collecting their National Awards next week."

SET did not issue any statement as to the film's future screening schedule.

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