Statutory Warning: Watching Disclaimers are Injurious to Film-Going Experience

Movie makers are resisting the trend of introducing more disclaimers, but the Centre is about to thrust another one on audiences.

A car crash created for shooting the film Dhoom 3. Credit: John W. Iwanski/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

A car crash created for shooting the film Dhoom 3. Credit: John W. Iwanski/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

As if disclaimers on parental guidance, characters being fictitious, the dangers of smoking, tobacco abuse and liquor consumption were not enough in Indian films, filmmakers have now been urged to add another one – this one cautioning against rash driving and telling viewers that copying scenes would lead to violation of traffic rules.

The move has peeved the film industry which believes that disclaimers take the fun out of watching movies and also do not serve the purpose they are intended for.

On May 11, film producer Hansal Mehta, who has produced films such as Aligarh, City Lights and Shahid among others, tweeted about the new circular that has been received by film makers.

He then tweeted again:

His emphasis on “OK” said much more than the two letters.

The arguments against disclaimers were best put forth by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap at the time of the release of his film Ugly in December 2014 when he had taken his fight against the “no smoking” disclaimer all the way to the Supreme Court. Basu didn’t mince his words, saying that “one disclaimer kills the entire film” and that he felt “insulted and cheated” when he sees films with such disclaimers, not found anywhere else in the world.

Basu had also questioned why the government wants the disclaimers against smoking and alcohol consumption to be put up in the films but would not ban alcohol and tobacco making companies instead. “Waha se paisa milta hai… revenue aata hai toh who ban nahi karenge (That’s where the money comes from, where the revenue comes from, so they won’t ban the product),” he had said.

The very fact that the Central Board of Film Certification lays down 19 broad guidelines which a film must not violate puts immense pressure on filmmakers while trying to depict life as it is.

As such the net is replete with ridicules of the disclaimers which the filmmakers are forced to put out. One such sarcastic piece made a mention of five disclaimers which it found rather restrictive. These ranged from general disclaimers such as “all the characters and incidents in this film are imaginary, resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental”, to specific ones such as “cigarette smoking is injurious to health”, “alcohol consumption is bad for health” and “tobacco use leads to cancer, heart attacks, lung disorders and other deadly disease”.

Then there are disclaimers which need to be put in specific instances, especially when animals are shown in movies. Here the filmmaker is required to submit that “the film is generated by shooting and computer graphics, and no cruelty had been inflicted on the animal during the process of shooting”.

And then of course there are the parental guidance disclaimers if a film is not deemed suitable for children.

The Committee on Road Safety, constituted by the Supreme Court of India, in a recent meeting with various bodies representing the film and television industries, film directors and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, decided that all producer bodies shall request their respective members to exercise caution wherever possible while depicting rash, negligent and dangerous driving scenes in films and television shows.

Moreover, the empowered panel said, “If such scenes need to be depicted as an integral part of the story/film scenes, then the producers of those films and television shows should be informed to voluntarily put a disclaimer only in the beginning of the film or television show that ‘performing such scenes by the audience may violate traffic laws/rules hence should not be emulated’.” So very soon, there will be another disclaimer adorning our theatre and television screens.

Are disclaimers useful?

If the idea is to educate and inculcate good habits, the efforts are clearly not being made with a uniform yardstick. Renowned filmmaker Muzaffar Ali told The Wire, “There are very thin dividing lines between what would impact a mind and what would not. Bad music is impacting society. From vulgar words to appalling music, these things are playing a havoc with society and yet nothing is being done about them.”

As for moviemaking, he said, there was no freedom in filmmaking from the word go. “Those who invest in movies make you compromise. Anyone who is making a film is either trying to distort history or make facts so much larger than life that they become incredible. The same thing is happening with all these action sequences, in which hectic driving or car blasts are shown. It has got nothing to do with the reality of the film.”

Ali, who has made films such as Umrao Jaan and Gaman, said he “does not think these disclaimers actually make a difference. Like the US which wants to cover whatever wrong they have done, through their films, we have no internal or external agenda. We just want to create awareness. These disclaimers are just small things you keep doing. Someone raises a noise and they do it. In a more civilised country, these are minimal issues. In Hollywood, they do not have such disclaimers as one can see from scenes depicting smoking and drinking. Their films show their life as it is, with all its ills”.

Filmmaker Kunal Vohra, who has made various documentaries, including those on traffic safety for Delhi Police, believes disclaimers are not the solution to anything. “The appeal should be more direct and more creative. You should draw up communication strategies and say approach schools to influence the young minds. Tomorrow, you would say you cannot write a book like this. These disclaimers also put people off while they are watching a movie.”

Vohra said filmmakers should be allowed to tell the story the way they want. “When you are telling a story, you are just showing characters in a typical situation. You are not suggesting this is how someone should drive or not. A filmmaker tells a story in a way he wants to show it. The inspiration for reckless driving, like people doing wheelies on two-wheelers as you see often in Delhi, does not come from movies. So if you have to create awareness about the dangers of minors driving, or about people riding triple on two-wheelers, make a separate film on the subject. Do not put out disclaimers.”