(Published on May 28, 2016 in Business Standard)
On Indian TV, any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental
If you’ve spent any time immobilised, lately—say, for example, because you’ve twisted your ankle, and been medically sentenced to two to three weeks of watching television while pretending to read—you will have noticed that TV has really changed in this country over the last few years. Specifically, it has been put into a playpen, wearing a corset and a veil, and tasked with safeguarding the national moral fibre.
In other words, it’s ruining television viewing. Dialogue now sounds like this: “If you had the *** you would have stood up to your ***. Now Get off your *** and get to work, you lazy ***.” It’s as if Vedic biochemists have discovered that our tender ears will burn to a crisp if they are exposed to the napalm of a salty colloquialism. It makes you want to throw the book you’re pretending to read, at the screen.
Indian television is self-regulated, and since the Broadcast Content Complaint Council was set up in 2011, TV has followed the Indian Broadcasting Foundation’s version of the Ministry of Information’s self-regulation guidelines. A quick look at these guidelines suggests that the Ministry suggests that Indian television protect Indian viewers from any resemblance to life. And asked to bend, broadcasters seem to have decided to crawl in order to avoid becoming judicial bait.
Watching a really great adult show like Orange is the New Black is, therefore, an incredibly annoying experience—not only do they keep cutting out same-sex kisses, as if those might cause Indian pelvises to go up in flames worse than heterosexual kisses, but every third word of dialogue is missing. Why air a show about inmates in a women’s prison if you’re only going to try to make it sound like a grown-ups day care centre? Are we supposed to believe that jailed criminals do drugs, run smuggling rackets, whack each other with locks in socks, and bonk each other constantly, but would never, never utter the word ‘boob’?
But—after noting that one show inexplicably replaced the word ‘shit’ with ‘jerk’—forget sex, drugs, violence, and swearing for a moment. Television shows are subtitled, to clarify difficult accents and compensate for hearing challenges. The subtitles take purification so seriously that they have become entirely uncoupled from rationality, replacing the word ‘breast’ with ‘chest’, ‘sexuality’ with ‘femininity’, ‘lesbian’ with ‘queer’, ‘horny’ with ‘in passion’.
Who amongst us has never said: “My queer friend said that chestfeeding can feel feminine, but maybe she was just generally in passion”?
Words like ‘vagina’ and ‘nipple’ can simply disappear into asterisks, so dangerous are they to society. So can ‘cocaine’. So can…wait for it…‘beef’. Yessir, beef. Not in a movie about Partition, but on an episode of the much-loved sitcom Friends.
Indian television airs shows like Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones because younger Indians have the cultural bandwidth to appreciate them—they’re smart, sexy, and edgy. But it only airs them, as The National pointed out, after cutting out smarts, the sex, and the edge.
India is hauling itself into the future of entertainment with typically anaemic adherence to the most puritanical standards, not the most progressive. It’s amazing that a country filled with adult viewers hasn’t made a serious racket about increasingly being treated like infants. Or perhaps most adults just go and get the whole show off the Internet, without the mutilation.
It’s enough to make you say, ‘I’ve had it with this jerk,’ and go back to your book for real.