Am pleased to report that whatever minor moral qualms I had about buying pirated DVDs have vanished, like breath into wind (yes, still on the Macbeth trip). Am I the first babe-in-the-woods to discover this or did everyone else know that the films we get here on official discs (the ones priced at Rs 399/599 and found at Planet M, Music World etc) are randomly censored? The same way the movies in those thick plastic-cover cassettes (forget the company name now) used to be in the video era. And the same way, of course, that movies screened in our regular halls are cut.
I’ve been buying legit DVDs quite frequently, against the counsel of friends who say it’s insanity to spend that much on a single disc. (What to do, I’m finicky about proper packaging and such. Besides, you don’t get everything at Palika Bazaar.) There was no problem all this while because the films I’ve been picking up from Planet M have mostly been Hollywood oldies: Sunset Boulevard, His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, Mary Poppins, a few films for my classics column for the New Sunday Express. No content there that might be deemed objectionable by our certificate-suppliers. But a couple of days ago I bought the DVD of Francois Ozon’s atmospheric Swimming Pool and discovered that entire scenes (mainly involving nudity by the delectable Ludivine Sagnier – and one scene, crucial to the plot, with Charlotte Rampling at the very end) were missing. (I’ve seen the film before, hence was aware of the deleted scenes and how the cuts affected the film’s continuity.)
Subsequently, a friend informed me that his officially purchased Pulp Fiction DVD has bits cut out from the confrontation involving Marcellus Wallace, Zed and the Gimp in the cellar, and possibly from a couple of other scenes. This is worse than disgusting; if the authorities are so bent on playing moral guardians, they should at least stop trying to put out crumbs for the non-mainstream/world cinema audience. Stick to old films and the occasional Hollywood summer blockbuster that’s G/PG-rated and sanitised in the first place. (It’s a strange morality that allows you to watch only Jerry Bruckheimer movies all day long, but what do I know.)
Nor is sex-and-violence censorship the only problem. On my Swimming Pool DVD, the portions of the film that were in French didn’t have subtitles, and there were no options to enable them on the “special features” menu. It threw me back to that day many years ago when I excitedly bought a very impressively packaged videocassette of The Godfather Part II, rushed home and found there were no subtitles for the flashback sequences (with De Niro playing the young Vito Corleone, the dialogue mostly in Italian). It’s all very well to bleat on about the film industry losing a lot of money to piracy – this is true enough on its own terms, and I sympathise with the struggling, lower-profile filmmakers who suffer as a result. But not including subtitles (or audio options, or the promised special features for that matter) on an “approved” DVD priced at Rs 500 is a blatant case of cheating the customer. Besides, man is a selfish animal and does not live on family films alone.
Back to the Palika Bazaar grind now…
Related posts: DVD extras, the Palika shop, DVDs vs VCDs and discs that aren’t properly packaged. Also, a nice, balanced comment here about the evils of piracy – which makes all this dicking around with legit discs even worse.