Why horror films spook censor board?


Horror is still one genre in Bollywood that needs to be explored. Though in the last few years some exceptional films like Raaz and 1920 have been widely appreciated by the audience, this wasn’t the scene in 1980s where Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) believed in chopping all the scenes which make a horror film scary.

Highlighting the journey of horror films in the country, Karthik Nair, PhD. Candidate, Cinema Studies, New York University Indian cinema, gave a lecture on ‘Bombay Horror: Cinema, Technology and Thrill in 1980s’ at the India International Centre recently.

Nair read out interesting aspects from his research paper on the production and distribution of horror films in India, where he focused on the relationship between
censorship and genre of horror films.

Nair talked about how ‘off-screen spaces’ laden with anxiety are deleted by the censor board. He presented a thematic chart of the films that were submitted for CBFC certification from 1973-1977. Films on social issues, crime and fantasy were in hundreds whereas there was hardly any film the horror genre during those years.

It was in 1978 when horror films finally arrived in India. To understand the evolution, Nair chose three films of that era – The Exorcist, Jaani Dushman and Darwaza.

The Exorcist, a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, when released in India after the ban on the screening of Hollywood films in India was lifted, was not exactly the scary original version. A revised version of it was put on screens in 1977 where the thrill of off-screen space was missing. It was ruthlessly censored.

Later, it was banned with a statement ‘film being gruesome and more than what people could stomach’.

Nair mentioned about the 1979 film Jaani Dushman where Amrish Puri turns into a devil and kills the newly-wed bride. The film was flatly refused with the Board saying it is ‘horrific’. The director of the film Rajkumar Kohli filed a petition in Mumbai High Court. He even prepared different versions of it to get it released.

It happened, but the murder scenes were ruthlessly chopped by CBFC. To prove this, Nair presented a series of paperwork which mentioned in detail the scenes that were deleted.

Similar was the fate of Ramsay Brother’s Darwaza which was released in 1978.
Rajni Majumdar, faculty at School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) appreciated Nair for his exhaustive work on the love-hate relationship between CBFC and horror films.

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