In the latter half of the 1990s, censorship became an obsessive topic in the Indian media.
For about five years, it seemed that one could not turn around without coming across yet another story about a magazine editor being harassed or even beaten by right wing goons, about cinemas showing the films of Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair being trashed, about
Bollywood starlets or saucy models being summoned to court for obscenity or indecency, about offending books, paintings and articles being slashed and burned amid saffron flags and TV cameras. Hindi film director Mahesh Bhatt, always ready with a sound bite, went so far as to call it a “cultural emergency” (Bhatt 1998).1 The implication was that various forces were now imposing, in the cultural domain, the kind of political repression for which Indira Gandhi became infamous in the mid-1970s. Censorship was in the courts and in the streets. The very idea of censorship as an exclusive prerogative of the state was being called into question, as all manner of activists and enthusiasts – with more or less tenuous connections to official powers – appeared ready to capitalize on the spectacular possibilities of the 24-hour news cycle that cable television had recently brought to India.
At the time, I was watching out of the corner of my eye – most of my attention was focused on the advertising business, about which I was writing a book. To be sure,
1 Derek Bose notes that Bhatt provoked protests with his statements in support of pornography at a time when he was on the governing council of the Government-owned Film and Television Institute of India in Pune: “In a memorandum to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, prominent women’s organizations in the country demanded Bhatt’s removal on the grounds that no Indian citizen and particularly one holding a government office can affirm the right to watch pornography” (2005: 150).
advertising had enjoyed its share of controversies