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UA, S, X, R demystified: How films are rated


Jhinuk Sen
Jun 15, 2011 at 06:08pm IST

New Delhi: In a recent interaction Samvaad CBFC 2011, organized by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Leela Samson promised to bring in more transparency in the film certification process and said a new film classification system, instead of the current censorship one, would be in place. The question now looms large - Would this work for the largely fragmented Indian film industry?

With simplistic and almost primitive ratings such as – U, A, UA and S – the Indian film fraternity has been waging an eternal battle against the censor board. The Samvaad CBFC 2011 interaction witnessed the coming together of an industry that is far too fragmented for its own good. Clearly, a new certification process is the call of the day- perhaps one where the ‘X’ certification fits in as well.

The Cinematograph Act, 1952 (Act 37 of 1952), apart from including provisions relating to Constitution and functioning of the CBFC or the Central Board of Film Certification (called the Central Board of Film Censors before 1983), also lays down the guidelines to be followed by certifying films. Initially, there were only two categories of certificate.

UA, S, X, R demystified: How films are rated

With primitive ratings the Indian film fraternity has been clashing with the censor board.

‘U’ (unrestricted public exhibition): Movies such as Stanley ka Dabba, Taare Zameen Par and Roadside Romeo. Movies you would take your younger siblings to watch and not feel red-faced about.

‘A’ (restricted to adult audiences): This category grew to include any movie with expletive language, sex and violence- Kaminey, Love, Sex and Dhokha and Ragini MMS – the slightly off-beat but box office safe movies that the censor board kept away from the children.

Two other categories were added in June, 1983 – ‘UA’ (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve): The movies like We are Family, Apne, Waqt - the ultimate family and social value films - the ultimate tear-jerkers.

The ‘S’(restricted to specialized audiences such as doctors or scientists).

Are we ready for the X tag?

But perhaps is time that Indian films reached out for the ‘X’ tag.

While other countries like UK and the US have a very defined and clear motion picture rating in place, one that is easy to follow and has the intricacies sorted - Hollywood works extensively on the policy of self-censorship.

In the west the producer applies for the certificate he thinks his movie should have. And most definitely - that is what works best, believes acclaimed film critic – Saibal Chatterjee, who has been a part of various International film juries.

“Movies are like literature. The director should have the freedom to show exactly what he chooses to and how he chooses too,” said Chaterjee. And given his mettle and intellect, the producer-director team can decide what tag the film must have.

In India, this choice works in so far as the producer gets to choose which regional censor board to approach so as his film is not canned. The fate of films in India, hangs on the flimsy balance of moral stigmas and social taboos and how stringent the body behind the censor board is in that instance.

In the US the motion picture, ratings look something like this

G - General Audiences - All ages admitted. There is no content that would be objectionable to most parents. Examples includes The Smurfs, Horton Hears a Who!, Winnie the Pooh and most of Pixar Studios' movies, including the Toy Story trilogy, Cars, Ratatouille and WALL-E.

PG - Parental Guidance Suggested - Some material may not be suitable for children under 10. These films may contain milder swear words, brief smoking, crude/suggestive humor, natural non-sexual nudity, short and infrequent horror moments and/or mild violence. Examples includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Powerpuff Girls Movie, and The Incredibles.

PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. These films may contain sex references, up to four uses of explicit language, drug innuendo, strong crude/suggestive humor, mature/political themes, moderately long horror moments and/or moderate action violence. Examples include The Simpsons Movie, Eat Pray Love and Casino Royale.

R - Restricted - Under 17 requires accompanying adult over the age of 18. The person is required to stay with the child under 17 through the entire movie, even if the parent gives the child/teenager permission to see the film alone. These films may contain mild or implied sex scenes, prolonged nudity, strong violence often with blood and gore, strong horror scenes and explicit/illegal/prolonged drug use.

NC-17 - No One Under 17 Admitted - These films contain strong graphic violence with loads of blood and gore, sex scenes, depraved, abhorrent behavior, sexual nudity, or any other elements, which, at present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children and teenagers.

Banned (UNRATED) banned publicly, even if viewed private, the person must be at least 21 years some stuff seen may be: indecent crude language; uncensored sex scenes; unnecessary violence.

X – The quintessential pornography tag. The precursor to the current NC-17 rating that unlike the other ratings was not trademarked. Because it was not trademarked it became so widely used by the U.S. pornography industry that the MPAA replaced it with the NC-17 rating in 1990. This has led to the misconception that NC-17 means pornographic in content.

However Chaterjee admits that the Indian film industry is too fragmented, “There are no monoliths – thus an over arching censorship rating could possibly not work in India. In a democracy it is ironical to enforce censorship – if one can be trusted to choose his government – then he should be allowed to make the right choice in picking a movie.”

Technology has surpassed all and today every tech-savvy person has the whole movie universe a click of an illegal torrent away. Moral restrictions only stunt the talent of the movie makers. The divide seems clear- follow the rules and click at the box-office or break some and please the critics.

Most definitely, an Indian film maker today has to subject his movie to the tag that gets him the audience bulk- that is how the money rolls. It is a safety net that must always be up and stretched out- but with films gradually inching towards the ultra-real, gritty everyday – the Shaitan, the DevD, the Girl in the Yellow Boots – can we drop the moral restrictions please?

A new classification system is a dire need – as much is the ‘X’ tag- for the hypocrisy of the society remains- people who are not willing to accept the reality they live- the age of gloss and prudence should walk into the sunset with the simplistic- U, UA and A tags.

The audience is maturing- the allowance should be made for them to grow and accept what the West has reveled in for decades already. Let the producer pick his tag – and let the right audience pick his right film.

Bring on the ‘X’ and the other alphabets CBFC!

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