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Why you can watch Joaquin Phoenix-starrer Joker on Amazon Prime but not on TV in India

Hollywood blockbuster 'Joker' was at the centre of a global row last year over its depiction of violence. It was given an ‘Adult’ certificate in India.

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New Delhi: Actor Joaquin Phoenix-starrer Joker, a critically acclaimed Hollywood blockbuster from last year based on the DC Comics character, is available for viewing in India on streaming giant Amazon Prime. But if you’re still waiting to catch the film on a television channel, you will to have it give it a miss.

The psychological thriller is an origin story for the titular DC super-villain and was at the centre of a global row over its depiction of violence. For its theatrical release in India on 2 October 2019, it was given an ‘Adult’ certificate.

But since films with ‘Adult’ certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) cannot play on Indian television by law, the rights holders to the title had applied for recertification.

Now, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), the final decision-making body for film certification in India, has deemed the Hollywood film unfit for universal satellite viewing.

In an order issued last month, the FCAT said the film “glorifies violence” and can leave a lasting effect on the impressionable minds of people below 18 years of age.

“The mental complexities that are sought to be projected would appear to be difficult for non-adults to comprehend,” it said, adding that the film will continue to retain its ‘A’ certificate.

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‘Storyline tends to justify violence’

In May, broadcasting company Turner International India Pvt. Ltd had sought permission for Joker’s unrestricted public exhibition through satellite television channels. It had offered 58 cuts and mutes for recertification.

Films with ‘Adult’ certification cannot be telecast on Indian channels either via Direct to Home platforms or cable networks. Only films with a ‘U’ or ‘U/A’ certification can be telecast.

If a film originally has an ‘A’ rating for theatrical release, then it needs recertification by the CBFC for telecast.

However, the CBFC refused Turner’s appeal in a 10 August order. It said Joker has a “dark, disturbing, extremely violent theme and narrative” surrounding a character with mental illness.

“The storyline, especially in the climax part, tends to justify violence and criminal behavior by the protagonist (playing anti-hero) and is not likely to be suitably appreciated by children,” the CBFC said.

The appellant had argued that the board didn’t appreciate Joker’s theme in its proper perspective, adding that the intention of the film was to create empathy for the protagonist who was mentally ill.

Subsequently, Turner moved the FCAT. But in an order last month, the tribunal that decides film certification disputes also denied the film a ‘U’ rating.

Joker received the Venice Film Festival’s top Golden Lion award last year. It also earned the most nods at the 92nd Academy Awards earlier this year. For his titular performance, Joaquin Phoenix took home the best actor Oscar.

Streaming option

While the film is finding it tough to make it to television channels in India, Joker has been streaming on Amazon Prime since April this year.

Industry sources pointed out that a growing number of video streaming platforms have rendered the certification conundrum redundant as they work under self regulation and don’t adhere to CBFC certification to stream titles.

“As a result, people still would watch the original film — without any cuts (unless the platform self regulates and makes any voluntary cut) — on TV over the online platform streaming it. Just that it won’t be on a satellite TV channel,” an industry source said.

“There is, however, a difference. While TV has a push content which means a viewer can see it whenever he switches on the TV, for an OCCP (Online Curated Content Providers) platform, the viewer has to request for the content to be viewed based on the descriptions and access controls given,” the source added.

The source was referring to the option before viewers to choose a title based on content descriptions and age ratings, and have access to parental controls.

These platforms are currently in the process of fine-tuning a self regulation code amid a tussle with the government over prohibited content.

The Narendra Modi government had planned a revamp of the CBFC in its first term in accordance with the recommendations made by a panel led by filmmaker Shyam Benegal. However, these are yet to be implemented.

Also read: Why Arnab Goswami’s arrest puts India’s long-cherished freedom of speech in danger


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