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SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 28 MARCH, 2017

The Danish Girl: A Ban That Makes Sense Only to Nihalani


KOLKATA: The Censor Board of Film Certification has again tried to redefine the value system by banning the telecast of The Danish Girl, a celluloid adaptation film loosely inspired by Lili Elbe’s autobiography Man into Woman, and later, David Ebershoff’s debut novel called The Danish Girl. Elbe writes about her sex reassignment surgery.

Elbe was born male in 1882 but began living as a woman after his marriage and had the first of several sex reassignment operations in 1930. She died in 1931 but left diaries and her life was fictionalised in the book The Danish Girl.

This is the first recorded history of a man having actually undergone sex reassignment surgery to become a woman, with the active consent and even participation of his wife, who, however, was heterosexual. The Danish Girl The film was scheduled to be aired on Sony Le Plex HD on Sunday, March 26.

This did not happen because Pahlaj Nihalani as the current head of CBFC, hammered down the screening.

Two days after the scheduled telecast of Hollywood film The Danish Girl was cancelled, chief of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Pehlaj Nihalani has claimed the film was never cleared for TV screening.

When asked about this ban, Nihalani said, “We certified the film for ‘Adults’ with no cuts for a theatrical release. As per rules, there is no separate certification for television broadcast. However, since we would not want the distributor to miss out on some added revenue we agreed out of good faith to view the film on the 23rd evening for possible re-certification. But even before we could view the film they had announced their telecast of The Danish Girl for March 26. How can they announce the telecast before censor certification? It’s completely illegal!”

But a source close to the channel who wishes to remain anonymous told IANS, “The film was scheduled to be aired on Sony Le Plex HD on February 26. The film went to CBFC for clearance three months ago and they were sitting on it. And now they have cancelled the broadcast citing that the issue is very sensitive. CBFC has put a ban across channels, and now no other channel can also show the film.”

And what reason did Nihalani forward for this sudden banning? “We postponed the screening of another film and scheduled The Danish Girl after it was submitted to us with voluntary modification by the producers of the content, so that the ‘A’ certification could be possibly converted to ‘UA’ or ‘U’ for telecast. However, when we viewed their modified version we found it unsuitable for telecast and refused a revised certification. That should’ve been the end of that.”

So, that puts paid to any questions raised about the banning of an awared-winning film of international repute in India that claims to be the largest democracy that is saying “No” with a vengeance to establish its own definition and rules on morality, sexuality, children and so on..

CBFC is a microcosm of this autocracy. But please listen. The film deals with the first recorded factual history dealing with a person who went through sex reassignment surgery at a time when it was unheard of. I wonder why the CBFC checks out its boxes only on the basis of visual content of a film even when the narrative content actually screams out to be heard, especially by Indians who still need to cope with everything associated with the concept of the transgender identity.

This is a film that needs to be watched by everyone who did not have the opportunity or intent or information about this film when it released in Indian theatres with an “A” two years ago.

“The whole subject is controversial, and it is unsuitable to be viewed by children. It talks about a man who wants a sex change and has a genital operation to become a woman. The subject is sensitive and how do you edit a subject like that?” a CBFC board member was quoted in the interview.

Really? In an era where the urban educated Indian has just begun to open up to alternative sexual preferences, to the transgender community and their demand for the right to be recognised and accepted by and in the mainstream, how does the CFBC suddenly decide to be proxy parents by stating that “the film is “unsuitable to be viewed by children” without spelling out what it means by the term “unsuitable” and how does it define the very flexible and fluid term ‘children”?

Let the parents decide what they children should or should not watch and listen, the entire film is right there to be watched on YouTube and other channels so why take away the right of a satellite channel to inform, educate and entertain?

The other objection is around the word “controversial.” So, are mainstream films not controversial? Are films like Raees, Kaabil, Bajrangi Bhaijan and all films not controversial? “Controversial” is an extremely subjective term that changes from person to person, from time to time and from place to place. So, 3 Idiots made for controversy for a large number of academicians and educationists though it was a thumping hit at the box office.

Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya might seem extremely controversial to many Indians who do not care for their girls going abroad for a career. Where Life is controversial to the extreme, why shy away from a ‘controversial’ film?

Sex reassignment surgery is a long-term, delicate and complex process that has deep emotional and psychological repercussions not only on the person undergoing the surgeries but also on the people he is closely related to such as his parents, his friends and most importantly, his partner or spouse.

Sex reassignment surgery from male to female involves reshaping the male genitals into a form with the appearance of and, as far as possible, the function of female genitalia. Prior to the surgeries, trans-women usually undergo hormone replacement therapy and facial hair removal. Other surgeries undergone by trans-women may include facial feminization surgery and other procedures. These usually begin with breast implant and end with vaginal reassignment.

Lili Elbe
was the first known recipient of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery in Germany in 1930. She was the subject of five surgeries. However, she died three months after her fifth operation and The Danish Girl recounts in dramatic detail, about what she went through and more significantly, how it impacted on her relationship with his/her wife.

The aesthetic, sensational, and functional results of any process involved in the many surgeries within SRS vary greatly. Surgeons vary considerably in their techniques and skills; patients' skins vary in elasticity and healing ability (affected by smoking for example), previous surgeries in the given areas, and complications resulting from problems such as infections, blood loss, or nerve damage. However, in the best cases, when recovery from surgery is complete, it is difficult for anyone to detect that someone has undergone SRS.

The first male-to-female surgeries in the United States took place in 1966 at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. The first physician who performed sex reassignment surgeries in the United States was the late Dr. Elmer Belt. He stopped these surgeries in the late sixties.

The first known sex reassignment surgery by an Indian celebrity who came out with his identity crises both in public and through his film Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish was the late filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh. But he died suddenly before he could go through the final surgery. He was under severe medication for other ailments and his doctors had strongly advised him not to go in for this series of SRS. But he went on with it and his heart could not take it any more.

Sohini Dasgupta made I Could Not Be Your Son, Mom, a documentary on a young man who became a woman through SRS. The man-turned woman, Teesta Das, became famous for holding forth on her change of identity through SRS though the film was not screened much.

So, one concedes that, as the CBFC has said, The Danish Girl is a sensitive subject adding, very tellingly in which the spokesperson asks, “How do you edit a subject like that?” The answer, my dear spokesman, is simple. You don’t. Let the viewers, adults or children, straight or of a different orientation, male, female, third gender or transgender decide whether they should watch The Danish Girl or not.

Nihalani and his team may just have heard of SRS for the first time! The Danish Girl has treated this real life story in a very delicate, aesthetic and sensitive manner without sensationalising the issue at any point. But then, there should be no further questions raised after Nihalani has put the final nail in the coffin of this screening!

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