The Jungle Book Controversy

The Jungle Book


For many people in India – now in their early 30s to 40s, or even late 20s – Sunday mornings would start with the sweet song whose first couple of lines are well-etched in their mind, “Jungle Jungle baat chali hai pata chala hai / Arre chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai phool khila hai”. Yes, that was Mowgli from “Jungle Book” running around in bare minimum, jumping from one tree to another with his friends Bagheera, a big black panther, Baloo, a big bear, Ka, a python, and his brothers (wolves) – Akru and Pakru – for company, and Sher Khan, the Bengal Tiger and murderer of his father, and his army of hyenas always on his trail.

So, recently, when the same Jungle Book released as a film, many got excited at the chance of being able to relive a childhood memory. However, as is the case with India these days – with the authority attempting to leave indelible marks on the cultural firmament every now and then – this work of art from Jon Favreau, who gave us Iron Man, ran into an unwanted controversy.

The U/A certificate

Pahlaj Nihalani, who happens to be the chairman of Central Board of Film Certification, is the one who has sparked off the controversy regarding the film by awarding it a U/A certificate, which means that anyone under the age of 18 would have to watch it with their parents. The censor board chief has reasoned that the film’s special effects are quite frightening and at times it seems that the animals could be leaping at the audience. Nihalani feels that such experience could be unnerving for children and as such it would help if their parents were around as would be the case in a U/A film. He has also implored the media to not to be swayed by the book’s reputation and to watch it so that they are able to come to a decision regarding the suitability of the content from a children’s perspective.

Criticism on Twitter

As may be the case with such decisions, it has attracted plenty of criticism on social media platforms such as Twitter. People have been wondering as to what could be the real reason for such a rating. As sarcastic comments poured in, some went on say that the film got U/S rating because the animals are not wearing clothes. Others dubbed Nihalani as an embarrassment and more amusing than any other standup comedian in the world. Some have mockingly expressed relief at the fact that the film has not been given an A certificate. A few acerbic comments have also questioned Nihalani’s maturity by stating that he himself may have to watch the film with an adult now that he has awarded it a U/A certificate.

Nihalani was Also Crticised in the Past

Nihalani had attracted similar criticism during the release of James Bond film ‘Spectre’, when a lot of kissing scenes in the film were chopped off and several fans had suggested that the Bond character be made more ‘sanskaari’ so that he could appeal to Indian tastes more easily. While some people found this decision absolutely hilarious, others felt that the censor board supremo may have missed the spirit of the film. In fact, he was also showered with unsavoury adjectives by some individuals.

Is it right to blame only Nihalani?

Before we reach any conclusions regarding the entire fracas it needs to be known that the film has received a PG rating around the world, which means that in other countries as well parents or adults need to accompany children to the theatres when they wish to watch the movie. The second aspect that comes into play in the context of the decision is a question – Does the censor board function in a democratic way? As far as common knowledge goes, decisions in the board are taken by a group of individuals of whom the chairman is the most important person. In that case, this must have been a majority decision, if not a unanimous one, and perhaps, it is unfair to blame only Nihalani because he is the public face of the board.

At any rate, the U/A certificate would do little harm to the film’s prospects as commercial success since a major chunk of the audience would be the adults who have watched the animated series in their childhood and would anyway come with their wards to relive a fantastic memory from their childhood.