Malayalam films are soon set to display a statutory warning when showing scenes that depict violence against women.
This comes after the Kerala State Human Rights Commission issued a directive to the regional office of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), asking the board to include a statutory warning that violence against women is punishable under the law, when showing scenes that portray crimes against the gender.
In its order issued on Thursday, the Commission stated that showing violent sexual crimes on screen could influence youngsters and hoped that displaying the statutory warning may create a positive impact.
Regional officer of CBFC, A Prathibha, told TNM that the board is open to complying with the Commission's directive.
"We have informed the CBFC Chairman about the directive and hope to arrive at a decision within 30 days. Since we agree with the Commission's observation that a warning that such acts are punishable must be displayed, I am certain the Chairman will issue a favourable order soon," Prathibha said.
However, asked about implementing the directive, Prathibha said that such aspects ought to be formulated.
"We don't have a clear picture as to how to implement this. Of course, not all films will have such scenes, this cannot be applicable for all films, but only those films that portray violence against women. We cannot generalise it," Prathibha said.
While there are explicit violent crimes against women, issues like stalking, verbal harassment, and the like, continue to be considered as "subtler forms" of crimes against women, or are not considered as a crime at all. They are glorified as "romance". Asked about how the board will define what kind of scenes will warrant display of the warning, Prathibha said that the board was yet to come to a decision on that.
Experts weigh in
Kochi-based film reviewer and critic Maneesh Narayanan calls the statutory a "short cut."
Asserting that he was against the display of any statutory warnings during the course of the film, Maneesh opines that warnings will not spread any awareness.
"It is not as simple as writing on a cigarette box that smoking is injurious to health. Even a subtitle affects the viewing experience of a person, and a warning pops up suddenly on screen. The warning disturbs our viewing experience. What is more important is that our writers and actors should become more conscious that verbal and other forms of harassment and sexism shouldn't be part of their films."
Maneesh added that it was not just the dialogues, but that voyeurism can be on display through even a camera angle and that filmmakers must consciously do away with such tactics.
"There should be an audience that questions these things and the filmmakers must be on the progressive side. They must decide that they will not make films that are offensive to women," Maneesh said.
Bengaluru-based Neelima Menon, editor of Fullpicture.in, feels that defining what scenes warrant statutory warnings is quite problematic.
"What will they write? There are so many intricacies in this. Will warnings be displayed when stalking is shown? In that case, 90% of the 'love scenes' will have to be termed so. So I believe there will be a matter of perception in this," Neelima said.
"Take a film like Ottamuri Velicham, which is on marital rape. Or even Parched. Here, a woman is being violently assaulted by her husband. In that case, what is the need for a warning? Is it not visible that what the husband is doing is wrong? Statutory warning is a shortcut, there should be awareness among filmmakers and the audience," he said.
Noting that the practical implementation of this directive was complicated, Neelima said that the audience need not be told that rape is punishable under law.
"Everybody knows that it is wrong, nobody is going to be inspired seeing it, so to speak. At a time when filmmakers want to do away with censoring, they will have problems when asked to display warnings like this," she added.