Take One

The Dirty Non-Picture

“For unavoidable reasons, we regret to inform that the film The Dirty Picture will not be telecast today. Any inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”

That’s the message which ran across Sony Entertainment Television (SET) as a ticker last Sunday, on the very day the much-spoken-of Vidya Balan hit was supposed to have its television premiere.

The literally last-minute cancellation was caused by a letter from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), directing SET to schedule the film for telecast only after 11 pm in light of the film’s apparently adult content. As a result, viewers who tuned in to catch the heavily promoted film were left disappointed and SET was saddled with the onerous task of figuring out what to do with the advertising it had sold around the two telecasts.

Not surprisingly, the eleventh-hour termination has led to a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations and much outrage within the fraternity.

There are some who blame the broadcaster, SET, for scoring an own goal and having only themselves to blame by scheduling a prime-time slot for a film that is ultimately the story of a B/C-grade actress who uses her sexuality as a tool to titillate the audience.

On the other hand, those angered by the MIB intervention point out that the channel had undertaken many cuts to enable the film to get U/A certification so that it could be aired at a regular time. What is the point and sanctity of CBFC certification if it can be overruled, they ask. Many have also pointed out that the film won Ms Vidya Balan the National Award for her performance. So how can it be deemed unfit to be shown on national television?

To be honest, the National Award = national television argument is a bit specious. There is no denying that the award is richly deserved. Indeed we shared our appreciation for Vidya’s magnificent portrayal of Silk on this very page in our issue dated December 3, 2011 (Take a bow, Ms Balan!). However, a fabulous performance, or indeed a great film, need not necessarily mean that the same is suitable viewing for all age groups. Case in point: the 1969 multiple-Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Midnight Cowboy, which had ‘X’ rating.

That said, the premiere-that-wasn’t is a matter of great concern and affects us, the film fraternity, as much as it does the broadcaster community. Satellite rights have become one of our most crucial and substantial revenue streams, and especially in the case of the bigger films, the pre-selling of these rights pretty much underwrites the producer’s entire risk.

Given the TDP-aborted telecast saga, it stands to reason that broadcasters shall be very wary of acquiring films that could face similar regulatory threats. At the very least, satellite rights valuations are likely to fall significantly for films with ‘A’ certification, even if they subsequently edit the film to get a U/A certificate for television.

So if you are planning to make a film with adult content, you might want to take a closer look at the satellite rights recovery estimates in your revenue projections!

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