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For public viewing: ‘Omit shots of Nimmi resting head on breast of Raj Kapoor, amorous gestures’

Now released: Censor board’s orders to filmmakers in early days of Indian cinema

Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai |
Updated: April 4, 2019 8:01:17 am
For public viewing: ‘Omit shots of Nimmi resting head on breast of Raj Kapoor, amorous gestures’ Digitised records are in public domain for the first time.

> “In reel 3, omit the entire boisterous song and foolish mimicries of boys in college in presence of women when Raj Kapoor and another boy come into the classroom crouching under the ground, omitting however all dialogues between the two while in that position.”

> “In the same reel, omit all the shots showing Nimmi (the character) resting her head on the breast of Raj Kapoor and other amorous gestures while sitting on the beach in the night besides the fisherman’s shack.”

These were among the elaborate instructions given by the censor board on January 4, 1951, to makers of Aag, Raj Kapoor’s directorial debut, when the movie came up for “further revision” and obtained a ‘U’ certificate.

And these are now available for all to see online.

They have been posted under a section titled ‘Film Censor Records’, which is part of a vast trove of over 2,500 pages of film files that the National Film Archive of India (NFAI), Pune, has digitised and made available on its official website from Wednesday in the form of Bombay and Bengal government gazettes, 1920-1950.

Classified under six sections, these records include information on each film examined: name, number of reels, length, who applied for certification, who produced or released it, country of origin, date of examination, and number and date of certification. The digitisation was carried out in 2009-10 but they were available only for visitors to the NFAI’s library.

Among the earliest directives is from 1925 — of Poona Raided, a silent film made by Deccan Pictures Corporation and directed by B V Varerkar. Among the scenes ordered deleted is one in which Mughal commander Shahiste Khan refers to Shivaji during his raid on Poona: “The Crescent Moon! Who calls him a Satan? He is the beloved of the Lord”.

The scene’s description states that Shivaji then transforms into Lord Shankar with the crescent moon on his head and is re-transformed into his original form as Shivaji. This scene and dialogue, spanning 22¾ feet of reel, had to be chopped because of the “anti-imperialist metaphor” — the film was certified on August 15, 1924.

The records show that in the pre-Independence period, most of the movies that came for certification were from abroad, mainly the US and the UK.

The Volga Boatman, an American silent film produced and directed by Cecil B DeMille in 1926, was refused certification because it portrays “class hatred, violence, degrading lust and brutality as accompanying the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia”.

Speaking to The Indian Express, NFAI director Prakash Magdum said: “These records are historical documents of early Indian cinema and the Indian film industry that were with us and are now available for the public. This database will be useful to film scholars who are interested in studying early Indian cinema.”

The records also show that war movies were under scrutiny during World War 2. I’ll Never Hail Again by Columbia Films of India was denied certification in March 1942 because it “deals with war matter in a comical vain and is bad for war propaganda”.

On July 23, 1942, the censor board asked China Fights Back: March of Time, a war movie by RKO Radio Pictures, India, to “omit the scenes and diagram depicting the Burma Road”.

These objections were raised by regional censor boards, which functioned under police chiefs of the time in key cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Lahore. Today, films are certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). But some of the cuts ordered still have an echo.

For instance, records show that in November 1950, the board ordered the removal of a scene from the trailer of Born to be Bad for showing Joan Fontaine and Zachary Scott lying on a bed in “an intimate fashion”.

There were also instances of the board cancelling certificates after they were issued. On June 8, 1942, it cancelled a certificate issued to Marathi movie Kiti Hasal after deciding that certain dialogues and a portion of a dance scene in the last reel were “objectionable”. A new certificate was issued to “the revised version of the film” on February 18, 1943.

Records also show that scenes depicting the characters smoking and drinking were removed, too. On March 6, 1948, American movie Relentless by Columbia Films of India was asked to “delete all actual drinking scenes except one which is essential for continuity”.

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