Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter in the show about a serial killer, has the odd habit of constantly changing out of blood-splattered clothes in the censored version of the show that is seen on Indian TV.
Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter in the show about a serial killer, has the odd habit of constantly changing out of blood-splattered clothes in the censored version of the show that is seen on Indian TV.

Cutting-edge or cut it out? India's TV quandary

While the young audiences that attract advertising want imports, no broadcaster wants to upset conservative viewers or attract government ire.

NEW DELHI // In a bid to attract younger viewers without offending the older ones, Indian TV is showing some of America's edgiest shows - but cutting out the edge.

As the country's cities attract more and more of the population, a delicate dilemma has hit a media culture dominated by shows aimed at rural audiences, such as the soap opera Baalika Vadhu, about a girl married off at the age of 10.

While the young audiences that attract advertising want imports, no broadcaster wants to upset conservative viewers or attract government ire. "This is a very sensitive time for the media in India," said a television critic, Shailaja Bajpai. "Many stations are afraid of government banning orders but at the same time, output needs refreshing to bring in audiences."

So channels resort to clumsy self-censorship, snipping scenes that are central to a show's plot with abandon. While they bleep out profanities, they will also cut a reference to crack cocaine from one part of a show, while letting it be broadcast a few minutes later.

Even more absurd are the imports that have English subtitles to assist those with a poor grasp of the language. Censors often let the spoken word through but change or omit it completely from the subtitles. So while a character on The Big Bang Theory is allowed to say the word "intimate", the subtitles only showed "int*****".

One incident turned an episode of Friends into a legend of unwatchable television. The show hinged on the joke that pages in a cookbook got stuck together and the character Rachel mistakenly made a fruit pastry with beef. The station bleeped out the word "beef" in a show of sensitivity for Hindus' reverence for cows, leaving viewers to guess why her diners were so disgusted.

It was just as perplexing watching the suddenly chaste vampires of HBO's True Blood and the serial killer star of Dexter, who is constantly changing blood-splattered clothes for no apparent reason on Indian television.

Or take David Duchovny's Californication womaniser Hank Moody, who disappears into a bedroom with a beautiful women then suddenly appears in a disjointed scene from later in the episode.

Nevertheless, young Indians are hungering for western television.

"I no longer want to watch the stupid shows I watched with my family growing up, I want entertainment and there is very little on Hindi-language television," said Abhinav Mohan, 22, a mass communication student who watches the disjointed imports instead. "Though heavily censored, I can still follow them."

Broadcasting the programmes, while editing out central plot themes, underscores the fine line entertainment companies such as the NewsCorp-owned Star and FX are trying to walk to attract urban youth while not angering their more traditional parents.

Bollywood actors only began kissing on screen in the past decade.

"Indian-produced movies and TV are very formulaic, you always know what you are going to get," said Rahul Gupta, a media company owner in New Delhi. "Today's youth are more likely to get what they want from Hollywood than Bollywood and TV companies are starting to realise it and hope to cash in."

In an effort to head off government interference, the industry created its own regulatory body in June.

Now, in addition to the odd censoring, viewers must also suffer a banner that repeatedly scrolls across the screen, advising viewers how to complain to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council. More than 3,000 have.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National