INDIA: Late-night TV too hot for government to handle?

A fashion channel has been banned for obscenity -- but fashion pros say vulgarity is all in the eyes of the beholder

Times of India
Monday, April 2, 2007

By Nikhila Pant and Saba Shaikh

After AXN's World's Sexiest Advertisements, it is now the turn of FTV's Midnight Hot to fall prey to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's moral zeal. The Ministry has decided that by showing "skimpily dressed and semi-naked models" shooting for fashion calendars -- which is described as an art form elsewhere -- the channel is going "against good taste and decency and denigrating women".

Banning and the babudom

But who are the people who take this decision of pulling the plug? Are they experts from the industry working on a certain set of guidelines, a la the film censor board? Actually no, for the I&B ministry's watchdog is a cut-and-dried babu affair. The ministry accepts complaints against channels/programmes from individuals and organisations. While most of the complaints are not taken too seriously, the ministry takes suo moto cognisance of some. Based on the guidelines of Cable TV Networks Act 1995, the "offender" channel is served a show-cause notice, to which it has to reply.

An inter-ministerial committee headed by the additional secretary of the ministry then studies the channel's arguments and depending on the "severity" of the complaint, the channel is called for a personal hearing. It is here that the babus decide the fate of the channel.

In the case of FTV, the channel was first served a notice in August '06. During the personal hearing, the channel assured the ministry that the offensive programmes would be removed from FTV-India (the channel's version for India and Asia). Complaints resurfaced and FTV maintained that since the channel was free-to-air, many broadcasters were showing the 'real' FTV. "The FTV authorities ignored the government's repeated notices served both orally and in writing. After oral communications, they were asked in writing to come for a discussion and explain their stand. They ignored it as well. The fault lies with the channel and not with the government. Anybody who violates the law of the land will face the consequences," said I&B minister PR Dasmunsi.

It's fashion, not voyeurism

However, fashion industry insiders are surprised by what is being termed as "offensive" content. "I am genuinely against censorship," asserts fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar, who has many swimsuit calendars to his credit. "Shooting fashion calendars is an art and they have no business to look down upon it. These programmes are not voyeuristic, they are just fashion. Anyway, perverts can look at other means, including internet, to satiate themselves. Will the government ban them too?"

Especially as the I&B ministry was planning a watershed 11 pm-5 am time slot for adult programming, such a step has left many baffled. "Why is the government going around banning channels when it is planning a time slot for adult TV viewing? Programmes like Midnight Hot could be telecast in that duration," says photographer Daboo Ratnani.

Adds model Krishna Somani who sees nothing wrong with calendars of this sort, "It is undemocratic to ban the channel."

Let's hide the lingerie show!

By Pallavi Borkar

After AXN, it's FTV. The government has returned to moral policing, banning the fashion channel's transmission or retransmission for alleged obscenity.

Apparently, the channel's programme Midnight Hot was airing skimpily dressed and semi-naked models, going against the norms of good taste and decency.

This is the second time the channel has run into trouble of this kind; on the previous occasion the decision was reversed after the channel promised to follow a code of conduct.

So can over-the-top fashion be considered obscene? And is censorship the answer? Everything has to be viewed in context, say most fashion pros.

Says designer Anita Dongre, "I'm completely against banning channels. I too think that skin show on the ramp is obscene, but if it's lingerie, then how else do you showcase it? Banning or suppression is counter-productive. We tend to get agitated over small things like this. What's this furore about? The government is just trying to grab some attention."

Ambika Pillai, who's been doing make-up and hairstyling for various fashion weeks and shows, says, "What they are doing is quite crazy. I think it's time everybody grew up. There's enough happening in our movies. The channel is an entertainment channel. It's one channel that's got its pulse on the fashion monitor. Why should you take away that just because of one show? And if the rest of the world can see lingerie shows, why can't we?"

She believes that showcasing the body is certainly part of fashion, but everything has to be done with refinement.

"Obviously, displaying butt crack is not fashion. If a designer's concept of a kurta is sheer and he wants to show breasts, he could do that by making a model wear a fashionable bra inside or skin coloured lingerie. No model wants to show off their private parts, that's for sure,"she adds.

Model and scriptwriter Sameer Malhotra says, "I have a clear understanding of censorship. I come from a place where my parents have taught me to police myself. I do not agree with the government's decision on issues such as this, but what can you do about it? Everybody has a right to freedom of expression as long as it doesn't hurt anybody. What damage can a fashion channel do? If you are concerned about young people watching it, then it's the parents who should be doing the controlling."

He doesn't think it's about obscenity at all. "It's the way you show it. It's all about a designer's intentions. Shocking nudity is a big no-no. The legendary Raj Kapoor once said, 'I show women under a waterfall; I think it's pure and you see it in a vulgar manner.' I think it has a lot to do with the intention of the persons involved,"says Sameer. Model Bhawna Sharma thinks it's much ado about nothing.

"I mean there's so much content in Bollywood movies that's obscene. Why don't they ban those? Both men and women today wear plunging necklines in movies and to parties, so how does it matter? I think we should find better things to do!"