Two weeks ago, my ten-year old came home from school and informed me in shocked tones that her friends had “liked ADHM” (the Hindi movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil), implying that they had watched a film over the summer that she had not been allowed to. Is ADHM suitable for a ten year old? Apparently, some parents thought so. In an ideal world, the difference between the choice that I made and they made would be accounted for by the varied ideas that parents have about media exposure and the belief systems they would like for their children. However, to even make that choice, parents would need prior information about the film’s content – something that is sorely lacking today.
In 2005, the Tamil movie Ghajini was released with a U/A certificate. Replete with violence, it was a film that should have been restricted viewing for kids below a certain age. Yet, there it was, playing to full houses across India, with toddlers and preteens watching in wide-eyed horror. The scene where a man uses a hammer to smash the heroine’s head was evocative and emotional but not fit for the consumption of kids who were yet to separate fact from fiction. A PIL was filed in court to reclassify the Hindi remake with an ‘A’ certificate for its heart-clenching violence, but it failed.
At the heart of this lies an Indian film certification system that is completely indifferent to the needs of various groups of viewers, especially children.
In India, the generation that grew up in the eighties are ‘flower children’. To all intents and purposes, the films of the era inform us that’s how we were born (biology lessons be damned!). Shy flowers bumped heads playfully, the air swelled with the melodies of string quartets and soon, an infant’s cry rent the air. Violence was limited to one-man armies laying waste to hordes of goons and breaking cardboard walls with their bare hands. No one really worried about the offensive ‘Madrasi’, or gender-biased dialogues that assailed our ears because that’s just the way it was.
Fast-forward to 2017 and we’ve come a long way on-screen. Kabali’s daughter will fight by his side; Rapunzel will no longer wait in the tower for her prince to rescue her – she will rescue herself. Romance is intertwined with sex leading to sometimes unexpected moments of physical encounters on-screen. Violence is not driven by stunts. As Superman and Batman battle their egos, they will raze entire buildings to the ground. More, larger, louder and dead-er effects can be achieved with digital technologies. Eyebrows are raised when ethnic or gender slurs are casually delivered in dialogues.
The point I am driving home is that society has changed, value-systems have undergone a revamp. While film content has evolved to be more explicit, whether in terms of sex, nudity, violence or horror, certifications in India have remained rooted in the glorious era of Eastman colour. But, where does that leave parents who need to make careful, informed viewing choices for their children?
"I felt most empowered about making film choices for my child when living in South Africa, which has a well-structured PG rating system.
As my family moved across several countries with a young child, we were exposed to various PG rating systems. I felt most empowered about making film choices for my child when living in South Africa, which has a well-structured PG rating system. Not only are films classified for safe viewing by age, but they also have mandatory codes that indicate whether the film contains violence, sex, nudity, horror etc. For e.g., PG15-V says the film is unsuitable for children below 15 without parental guidance and that it contains some violence. Now, armed with this and with more details from sites like IMDb, one can make an informed viewing decision for one’s child.
There is a case to be made for a strong system of PG rating to be brought into India. Till then, it’s hit and miss for parents.