'Padmavati' cleared by India’s censorship board

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Shortly before the turn of the year, India's film censorship body, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), cleared the release of controversial Bollywood film Padmavati, saying it had not recommended any cuts, according to local press reports.

The movie, set in the 14th century, sparked outrage from Hindu groups and the Rajput caste organization for a rumored scene in which a Muslim (Mughal) ruler dreams of an intimate romantic tryst with a Hindu queen, played by Bollywood superstars Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, respectively. However, the producers as well as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali have consistently denied that such a scene existed in the yet-to-be-released film.

While the Hindu queen, the titular Padmavati, is an entirely fictional character from a 16th-century epic poem, Padmavat, she is worshipped as a deity by the Rajput caste and also highly revered among other Hindus as a symbol of female honor.

In a statement released to the media, the CBFC said it had appointed a special committee “to consider protesters' concerns and discussed them at length" and that "the film was approached with a balanced view keeping in mind both the filmmakers and society."

Although the board did not recommend any cuts to the movie, it still said it wanted it to carry two disclaimers—one to make it clear that the film was not historically accurate, and the other saying that it did not promote the practice of “sati,” the self-immolation by widows on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands outlawed by the British in the mid-19th century. The board also recommended changing the film's title to Padmavat in order to reflect that its story is based on the ancient epic poem of the same name.

Early last year, members of a fringe group of the Rajput caste had reportedly disrupted shooting of the film, with one member slapping its director on set before the group was removed by security. Elsewhere, Hindus and Rajputis, enraged by the rumors about the controversial scene, had vandalized cinemas, with at least one media report saying that some of the protesters had threatened to cut off lead actress Padukone's nose, in an apparent reference to an incident in another ancient epic, Ramayana, where a female character suffers the same fate as punishment.

Golden Year for China’s Film Industry

Despite a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past two years, China’s film industry emerged from 2017 with quite a few impressive records under its belt, further cementing the country’s status as the world’s second-largest film market.

A total of 798 feature-length dramas, 32 animated films and 44 documentaries were produced in 2017, with the enormous success of local action blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 contributing tremendously towards very favorable box-office results.

According to recently released statistics from China’s principal industry regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), box-office takings in 2017 hit a record high of RMB55.9 billion ($8.61 bil.), an increase of almost 14 percent year-on-year.

Of this total, Wolf Warrior 2 alone, the highest-grossing film in the country’s cinematic history, generated RMB5.68 billion, or about 10 percent of total takings. This was nearly 70 percent more than the RMB3.39 billion in ticket sales local romantic fantasy-comedy The Mermaid earned in 2016.

But with Wolf Warrior 2 now having risen to the top spot, The Mermaid has to be content with “only” being the country’s second-biggest box-office earner of all time. And how long Wolf Warrior 2 will manage to hang onto its throne remains to be seen.

Although Hollywood blockbuster The Fate of the Furious turned out to be second highest-grossing movie last year (in fact, earning more in China than it did in the U.S.), all other runner-ups were domestic films, including Never Say Die, Kung Fu Yoga and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back.

While Hollywood fare still is a favorite among local audiences, domestic films nevertheless for the first time prevailed over foreign imports in terms of combined box-office receipts, taking in RMB30.1 billion, or nearly 55 percent of the total gross in 2017.

Wolf Warrior 2also served up yet another triumph for the local industry: Industry tracker Box Office Mojo listed it as the sixth highest-grossing film of 2017 worldwide. Additionally, the action film also made its way into the top-100 list of highest-grossing movies of all time.

The surprise hit of the year hailed from the documentary camp. Twenty Two recounted the heartrending stories of 22 surviving former “comfort women” who had been gang-pressed by the invading Imperial Japanese Army in World War II to become sex slaves. Although Chinese audiences traditionally have not been particularly interested in theatrical documentaries, Twenty Two attracted them in droves, making it the first domestically produced documentary to surpass RMB100 million in box-office receipts.

But several non-Hollywood productions also turned out to be unexpected sleeper hits, proving that China’s movie fans are becoming increasingly sophisticated. For example, Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea earned more in China than in any other Asian country where it was released, although it still generated only a rather modest RMB8.2 million.

Meanwhile, India’s biographical drama Dangal became the highest-grossing Indian film of all time in China, while Thailand-produced slapstick comedy Bad Genius earned the same distinction in China for the Southeast Asian country.

Busan Fest Seeks New Chairman and Director

Asia’s largest and arguably most influential film fest, South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), recently started recruitment procedures for a new organizing committee chairman and festival director.

The board of directors on Dec. 19 announced on the festival website that it would forthwith accept recommendations from individuals and organizations for these two crucially important positions, which it intends to fill quickly.

The board said in its recruitment post: “In order to solve any urgent problems and to avoid any disruptions in the business matters of the [upcoming] 2018 Busan International Film Festival, it is important that we elect a new chairman of the festival organizing committee as well as a new festival director.”

BIFF has been left pretty much rudderless since late last year, after former chairman Kim Dong-ho and festival director Kang Soo-youn simultaneously tendered their resignations in a surprise move and vacated their positions immediately after the festival’s closing ceremony on Oct. 21.

According to the recruitment post, ideal candidates would have a wealth of film industry experience, need to actively maintain a strong network of domestic and international film industry contacts, possess an extraordinarily strong understanding of the dynamic global film industry and bring in a future-oriented vision for the festival’s development and direction.

While the submission period ended on Jan. 5, the board has not disclosed any details on how many nominations were received and who the nominees are, but it is highly expected that it will short-list a handful of candidates and make a decision on whom to award the two positions during its regular general meeting in early February.

For feedback and inquiries, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.