Elizabethan sex and violence too strong for Indian censor
Thursday 29 July 1999
Shekhar Kapur was forced to withdraw the film from a special premiere for India's President, Prime Minister and invited guests next week while he battles with the censors over cuts to scenes of nudity, sex and foul language.
The director, who won plaudits for the historical accuracy of the film, has now issued an ultimatum: audiences in India will not see the film at all unless they can view the uncut version.
Kapur has crossed swords with the Indian censor before. A rape scene in Bandit Queen, depicting the life of gang-leader Phoolan Devi, generated huge amounts of controversy. But he is not alone in falling foul of the censor board. Indian directors who have made films for international audiences have been particularly susceptible. Most recently, Kama Sutra and Fire - which featured nudity and lesbian sex - became embroiled in protracted legal battles over proposed cuts.
The gala premiere of Elizabeth, scheduled for next Tuesday - at the behest of the Indian President Kocheril Raman Narayanan, who has seen the film already - has now been downgraded to a private showing at the British Council. The stars, Joseph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett, who won a Bafta award and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Elizabeth I, have decided that they still wish to travel to India for the event.
Kapur will shortly lodge an appeal against the censor board's three major cuts, which would allow the film an adult certificate. A passionate scene between the Duke of Norfolk and Elizabeth led the censor to demand that "visuals of a naked man moving over a woman on a bed" and "a woman's bare breasts" be deleted. But Sanjeev Bhargava, one of the Indian distributors, said its removal would wreck the structure.
"This cut would materially affect the form of the film and disrupt the flow of shots causing a jerk at a moment that requires incredible smoothness," Mr Bhargava said.
In another sequence judged unsuitable, the Duke of Anjou addresses Queen Elizabeth as "Your Qinny", an archaic slang reference to the female anatomy. Mr Bhargava defended the passage: "It's not vulgar in the context in which it is used in the film." A bloody scene of the executed Lord Arundel's head displayed on a spike also raised hackles, but without it the audience would not realise his identity or that Queen Elizabeth had ordered him put to death.
"The entire movie is about how Elizabeth grows from being naive and vulnerable to the ruthless, iron-willed woman who rules not only England and the church, but also lays the foundation for the later British conquest of the world," Mr Bhargava argued.
In a combative statement, Kapur threw down the gauntlet. "In view of the fact that the Censor Board of India has decided to demand cuts in Elizabeth that are unacceptable to me, I have asked the distributors to withdraw the film from any screening in India until the film is cleared without cuts.
"The cuts interfere with the understanding of the narrative, which is, in any case, very complex. I would rather people in India saw the film the way I intended the audiences all over the world to see it." Kapur may be gambling that the tactic worked for Steven Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan. The censor backed down after Spielberg said the film must be shown uncut or not at all.
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