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One of the most popular lines from Mankatha - ‘this is my ****ing game’. No need to elaborate any further on this, even though the censors have appropriately bleeped out the portion. The use of the four letter word has become so commonplace nowadays that the use of a bleep or four stars (****) in text is automatically construed as denoting it.

Of course, this has been discussed many times before, the appropriateness of using swear words in cinema! Yes, there are arguments that cinema is free to use these words for the consistency of characterization, for originality – the creative liberty of the director and so on. One can agree with all this; if and only if, the cursing is made to look real!

Don’t get my drift. Well, you have to watch Mankatha to understand. The lead actor (Thala) is the one doing all the cursing; the choicest words, both Tamil and English are employed. It is not the choice of words that irk as much as the way in which they are said. The words are spelt out slowly, loudly and with a deliberate exaggeration of lip movements; and the director makes sure that all these factors are picked up clearly on camera and then edited into slow motion to make sure that everyone understands what is being said. It is as if they know only too well that the censors are going to replace these expletives with the ‘bleep’. So, they want to make sure that everyone in the audience is able to pick up the words being used without any trouble. And, therefore you get a slow motion shot of Vinayak Mahadev shooting a lady and using a particularly nasty expletive; the focus of the slo-mo shot being the word that is being used.

Cursing need not be prohibited in cinema. But, such grandstand performances of expletives, where the focus is not on the character or the situation but on the actual word being used, just to provide a few cheap thrills is something that must be dealt with in a hard way. Mankatha almost romanticizes the use of the **** word, highlighting it as a major feature of the movie (why else would that be used in the trailers). Agreed, there are not too many instances in the movie where characters curse in offensive language. But, the two instances of Ajith playing to the galleries with subversive language is good enough.

The censors have been reduced to a joke here. All that the censors can do in such situations is to insert an innocent ‘bleep’. The purpose of the bleep is to mask the word being used, for the benefit of the naïve and innocent children (if there are any left) who might watch the movie. The director knows this and conspires to make every lip movement of the actor so clear that, bleep or no bleep, there is no trouble in understanding what is being said. It is clear enough to be understood by a person even with hearing disability. The ‘bleep’ inserted by the censors here merely seems to serve as an indicator that something very bad is being said on screen. And, if the censor board thought that putting the bleep in place would stop the word from resonating in theaters, they are wrong; there are enlightened samaritans in the audience who generously fill in for those muted shots.

Cut to Aaranya Kaandam. It had curses by the truckloads, but not one single shot which romanticized the practice of profanity, not one that performed an expletive rather than just say it. But, that was the film which ran into huge amounts of trouble with the censors. If the censor board’s problem with the film was the use of expletives, why did Mankatha not get the same treatment? Yes, Mankatha was lower in terms of quantity, but wasn’t the intensity of the usage of a higher degree.

Mankatha was given a U/A certificate, which means parental guidance is recommended. But, how are parents expected to stop their kids from deciphering the explicit use of profanity (in slow-motion) on screen.

Or think about Delhi Belly, which cleverly manipulated the language and got a pass from the censors on the D.K. Bose song. Perhaps, a first in terms of a new practice called ‘surrogate cursing’. The question is when such celebrations of profanity, as seen in Mankatha or Delhi Belly pass unscathed through the scissors, why should more grounded versions (which show cursing as a practice which is not to be glorified or hyped) like Aaranya Kaandam face problems.

If anybody wants to argue that no one is being influenced by the use of expletives on screen, go check in theaters showing Mankatha and find out the scenes that get the most rapturous applause! It’s a ****ing game!

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