Movie censorship

Producer of ‘Lipstick Under my Burkha’, described by censors as ‘lady oriented’, readies for battle

Prakash Jha says he will appeal to the Film Certification and Appellate Tribunal, even as the CBFC defends its decision.

Prakash Jha has had numerous runs-in with the Central Board of Film Certification, both as a director and a producer. “Raajneeti had problems, Chakravyuh had problems, Aarakshan had problems, and Jai Gangaajal had several cuts, which were reduced after we went to the Film Certification and Appellate Tribunal,” he told “People must be wondering why all my films have censor problems.”

Jha will be knocking once again on the doors of FCAT, which has emerged as a sanctuary of reason and calm within the Central Board of Film Certification. Jha’s latest production Lipstick Under My Burkha, a woman’s empowerment drama directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, has been denied a certificate on the ground that it contains deeply objectionable material. The CBFC’s letter of rejection has made international headlines for its tone and mangling of the English language.

Shrivastava’s second film after Turning 30!!! (2011) explores the intersecting lives of four women in a small town. Freedom from social restrictions is the theme that unites the characters played by, among others, Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma. In a previous interview with, Shrivastava was hopeful that the film would pass unscathed through the censor’s scissors: “I think we have to grow up, it’s really okay.”

The movie’s frank look at sexuality may have scandalised the committees that ordered the ban, but it has charmed film festival programmers. “The film is going to festivals around the world, and people are loving it and women are loving it,” Prakash Jha said. “But our CBFC thinks otherwise, they have their own morality and their own rules. This is a very beautiful story, but it doesn’t suit the board’s sensibilities and programme. We will do what we have to do to get it passed.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha.

Among the prizes scooped up by Lipstick Under My Burkha are the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival, both in 2016. The movie was most recently shown in the competition section at the Glasgow Film Festival, and it will be screened at the Miami International Film Festival, the International Women’s Film Festival in Paris, and the London Asian Film Festival in coming weeks.

The film was submitted to the CBFC in January. The examining committee, which represents the first level of certification, rejected the movie, in effect banning it. As did the revising committee, whose members included controversial CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani. On February 20, according to the filmmakers, Shrivastava was summoned by the CBFC and informed that they had unanimously decided not to pass the film. The chief executive officer of CBFC, Anurag Srivastava, did not respond to an interview request from, although he defended the board’s decision to the India Today channel.

In a separate interview with India Today, Nihalani too stood by the board’s decision. If the filmmakers wished to appeal to FCAT or move court, they were free to, Nihalani added.

Pahlaj Nihalani speaks to India Today.

Although the filmmakers had applied for an adult certificate, the censor board has been prickly about allowing grown-ups to listen to profanity or watch explicit moments. Under Nihalani, CBFC has stymied the efforts of filmmakers who demand an adult rating in the hope that even while they stand to lose box office business, their creations will not be bowdlerised. Even adult films face censorship – swear words are bleeped out, sexually explicit material is trimmed, and references to places, political parties, organisations, castes and religions are routinely excised.

The appellate tribunal, which sits in Delhi and compromises members appointed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, has come to the rescue of several films denied certification by CBFC committees. For instance, Shlok Sharma’s Haraamkhor, about the love affair between a teacher and his 15-year-old student, was cleared by FCAT after a CBFC ban.

The tribunal also overruled CBFC’s demand to cut ten seconds from the music video for the song Miss You, by the band Friends of Linger. The 4.55-minute song is about homosexual love, and the offensive portion showed two men lying in bed. FCAT chairperson Manmohan Sarin and members Poonam Dhillon and Shekhar Iyer overturned the demand for a cut, which will allow the video to be shown on music channels.

Miss You.

In other cases, filmmakers have been forced to take legal action, as was the case with Udta Punjab, which moved the Bombay High Court after CBFC ordered numerous cuts and won its case.

The film industry has condemned the latest censorship row. Tweets from influential filmmakers such as Farhan Akhtar and Kabir Khan indicate which way one section of the industry is thinking.

Nihalani has been lenient on occasion – he permitted scenes of vigorous kissing and a flash of a bare bottom in Aditya Chopra’s Befikre in December on the ground that such permissive behaviour was in keeping with the movie’s foreign location (France). Efforts to dislodge Nihalani from his post have proven unsuccessful because of his alleged closeness to top leaders in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The latest controversy is likely to only strengthen his position as a moral crusader who is leading his own Swacch Bharat mission to cleanse cinema of evil thoughts and deeds. The filmmakers of Lipstick Under my Burkha have a long, and costly, battle ahead.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.