Interview with Sharmila Tagore

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We interviewed Sharmila Tagore, former actor and head of the Central Board of Film Certification, who visited insti for Techfest’s Lecture Series. Here’s what she had to say:

Q. As an erstwhile member and head of the CBFC, can you throw some insight into what went through your mind while reviewing a film?

In the CBFC we have 9 regional offices- for example there is one in Kolkata that also looks after the north East, one in Delhi, another in Maharashtra. All of these are manned by Regional Officers that come from various disciplines, with their tenure spanning three years.

Each office then has its panel members who come from different sections of the society- doctors, journalists etc. It is them that actually see and certify a film. The regional officers constitute that panel- ensuring there are prescribed number of women for instance. They see about two to three films a day. There is a lot of work to be done- documentary and short films too need to be certified.

In one way we are an arm of the Information Broadcasting Ministry. I consider the CBFC as an enabling bridge between the Government, the Film Industry and the civil society. We are in touch with all three and try and do our best.

The idea is not to offend people, but sometimes people are in the mood to be offended. And the CBFC bashing continues- it’s not a popular body. If you want to be popular, then don’t become the CBFC chairperson.

The CBFC can issue just one certificate. We bring our media experience to our job, and usually we get it right.

Once the certificate is issued, then even the IB Minister cannot change it. And if the producer is not happy with the certificate he can go to a court, and then the film can be reviewed by another committee. There are a lot of checks and balances.

Q. As a jury member at the Cannes film festival, how do you think Indian ‘mainstream’ Cinema compares with the movies that are usually screened at these film festivals?

Apples and oranges you know- you really can’t compare. In Cannes you see all kinds of movies- it’s a very big market and people go there with a lot of hope for their films. You see cutting edge films from countries ranging from Korea to China.

What happens in India is that we have a captive audience at home. Mainly we make our bread and butter at home- so nobody is dying to make movies for the international audiences. In Iran, on the other hand, films depend on international audiences. The Chinese do have a local market for some of their films but the ‘good’ films are again dependent on the international market. Same goes with Turkish films.

Q. What is your take on the role that Hindi cinema is playing with respect to the cause of empowering women. This is in light of the growing trend of item numbers and normalisation of harassment that is depicted on the screen?

Films at the end of the day are business propositions and a lot of livelihoods depend on them. Don’t expect films only to deliver a social message. I remember the 80’s when there was a lot of rape and a lot of violence screen- that was not a very good time, but over the years now, the things have improved. In Piku and Neeraja, for example, you see strong women characters. Even Pink has done well, and people have accepted that. Thus I think women’s role is changing.

I guess we also need to look at the role of the family. I don’t think Cinema is a bigger institution than the family, and so the family has to treat their women equally because, when you see that people save money for the boy’s education and girl’s marriage, and girls are expected to behave like girls, it’s sad. Any girl who is asking too many questions, wants to go out will hear “No, who do you think you are, a boy?” ‘Stay at home” “Go to the kitchen”- these kinds of dialogue is very common. We have to start from the home and make sure that our boys and girls are nurtured in the same fashion, given equal opportunity, and the girl is not asked to sacrifice for the brother in any material way.

That sense of entitlement should be controlled a little bit, and you have to make a beginning, because there is a huge mindset, like Uma Chakravarti says- from our past- be it dowry, tying a women up, or society perceiving her as an economic burden.

We come from family of 3 sisters- we did not have a brother, and my father gave us the best that he could afford, and we’ve learnt that we also can look after our parents. It’s not just that it’s only boys who can look the parents. In fact when the boys get married and they disappear, it’s the girl who looks after the parents, and if you educate the girl, then she will also earn. But then again there is a belief that if the girl is overly educated, then she won’t find a husband. If she is more educated than the man, then nobody will marry her. So that’s also a challenge.

Men should develop the confidence to accept a woman and not feel inferior. They should include her opinions, they should ask for her opinion and together take a decision. She should be involved in the decision-making process, as this monopoly of men does not necessarily benefit the family. I think when the children see that the mother is involved in taking a decision, and the father respects the mother, they grow up much better, and they have both empathy and humility. Otherwise, they become a little rash and arrogant. I think one needs to look at the family first, and not at the cinema, to change the system. The family needs to change.

Q. Recently, Jennifer Lawrence made a point about there being abject sexist bias in pay for male and female actors in Hollywood. What is your stand on the matter with respect to Bollywood and the Indian entertainment industry in general?

Of course, the belief is that the main star gets the audience, and also that the male star is the breadwinner of the family and therefore, should be paid more.

I disagree. LIke I said, women oriented movies like Kahaani and The Dirty Picture have done well. So I think that’s a myth and women should have equal pay. Now, the disparity in pay is too much, and no it’s not only a phenomenon here in India, but it’s all over the world .

Jennifer Lawrence and others are trying to do something about it, but I believe this requires a change of mindset. It’s a patriarchal society and for women, every step of the way there has been a challenge. Things are improving- the Right to Vote has come and so has the domestic violence bill. Good laws are in place, but things will only change slowly, and we will have to wait for that.