NCPCR Thinks Bombay Begums Portrayed Minors Inappropriately. Someone’s Being Naïve And It’s Definitely Not The Minors.
On the day that the news blast arrived that the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) wanted a ban on Bombay Begums because it portrayed minor children doing ‘inappropriate’ things like drugs at a party, something tragic but ironic happened. I wish I had taken a screenshot of the notifications on my phone screen. Below, the NCPCR’s naïve claim that minors don’t really snort drugs or have sex. And above it, was another news blast about a gangrape, where two of the accused were minors. I spent a good five minutes weighing all the ways banning Bombay Begums off Netflix could solve future such violent crimes at the hands of minors from happening. But none could bear the weight.
And then, I thought of how the show, created by Alankrita Shrivastava, along with Bornilla Chatterjee, dealt with the minor character in question, Shai’s coming of age, understanding her sexuality, and her dalliance with drugs. Would watching Pooja Bhatt’s Rani, Shai’s stepmother, treat her teenage step-daughter like an adult, talk to her about consent and self-preservation, and sharing with her her own story of sexual assault equip teenagers to handle their lives better? The answer was a resounding “YES”.
And there you have it. These are honestly the only two points that I’d need to make about why I think the NCPCR’s case against Bombay Begums is preposterous. But since our country is fond of long-drawn speeches and TV shows that go on forever, I’ll elaborate a little more.
But first, some context.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, Bombay Begums dropped on Netflix. A powerful story about five women, ranging from ages 13 to 49, and the youngest been a teenage girl called Shai, played by Aadhya Anand. Shai lost her mother when she was quite young. Her step-mother, Rani, makes genuine effort to be there for Shai, but unlike her brother, or her father, Shai is still quite hostile towards Rani. Their relationship, however, is not your typical stepmother-stepdaughter suckfest. They’re both af the ‘Live & Let Live’ school of thought. So Rani doesn’t smother Shai with attention, while Shai might not see Rani as a mother but definitely supports her as a woman when the time comes.
Shai’s character is a recluse, expressing herself mainly through her sketches and internal monologues. Her crush on a classmate leads her to do things that most lovestruck teenagers do, without realising the implications or consequences of the actions. She marks her skirt with red paint because she hasn’t begun menstruating yet, just because she read somewhere that men are more attracted to women in their feminine glory due to evolutionary reasons. When heartbroken, she goes on a substance abuse rampage at a party, and has to be rushed to the hospital due to an overdose.
Shai’s arc mirrors that of Rani, who is dealing with pre-menopause symptoms, just as Shai deals with the onset of her puberty. And just like Shai, Rani too has her heart broken by a man who she thought genuinely loved her. So when the two finally connect, over Rani’s concern that Shai might’ve been sexually abused in her unconscious state, all over a boy, she decides to open up to Shai like a friend, and that’s what brings them closer.
Also Read: Bombay Begums Review: Flawed But Real, Just Like Women. And Ruled By Strong Performances.
NCPCR ka problem kya hai?
On March 11, a notice was sent from the NCPCR to Netflix India stating that as per Section 3 of its Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005, the Bombay Begums’ content “will not only pollute the young minds of the children, and may also result into abuse and exploitation of children.” The body is also concerned about the impact such content could have on the effective implementation of the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Now, honestly, the series and Netflix, both seem to have covered their bases. While the show tackles the whole thing rather maturely, as it should be tackled—by talking about consent and perhaps, off-camera, about sex education—the platform has rated the show for an 18+ mature audience. So there really is nothing to indicate this impacting minors in any way.
Also Read: Bihar CM Nitish Kumar Asks For Censorship Of OTT Content Because It Leads To More Crimes Against Women. We’ll Blame Anything But The Criminal
The naïvete is comical though
Let’s call it like it is, shall we? Come on, do we really think that teenagers are not using drugs and or having sex? Or that if we ban them from our entertainment, they will stop? That’s like saying if you banned Udta Punjab from releasing, then the Punjabi youth would not have fallen prey to excessive drug use! Or had we banned Julie, Kya Kehna and Juno from releasing, we’d have far fewer unwanted teenage pregnancies! Seriously?
In fact, we should probably be encouraging content that shows the bad consequences of drug abuse and lack of sex education, and parents or parental figures openly talking to children about these things, than shutting them out and letting kids get this knowledge from the Internet. Unsupervised. The youth these days is much, much more mature than we give them credit for. To underestimate their intellect and emotional intelligence and think they’re just baboons who will ape anything shown to them is a very simplistic view of their multi-layered adolescent psyche. They don’t need what they do or watch parented. They need to be able to see it all, and made to understand the difference between what is good and what is bad.
When shows like Bombay Begum, Tandav or even Game of Thrones and Mirzapur depict the extent to which human behaviour can stretch, it might seem too much for our dainty sensibilities. But rest assured, the real world is much worse place and you’re only reacting in this manner to the content because you either haven’t experienced the worst for yourself, or you are living in denial and want to protect your own innocence.
And that is just being naïve, closing your eyes to the reality, hoping that if you don’t look at it, it will just disappear. Isn’t that what little kids do when they think they see something in the dark?
A ban is never the solution. Have we not heard of the forbidden fruit theory?
Since we listen to religion more often than reason, here: God banned Adam and Eve from eating off the tree of knowledge, didn’t he? Did it work? Duh. With young people, the more you stop them from doing something, the more lured they’ll be by its dangerous appeal. If anyone thinks that by banning or editing out shows like Bombay Begum is a solution, you’re only driving more people to desperately watch it. So there goes your shot.
We need the government to stop protecting our sensibilities and start making our realities safer
Let’s stop worrying about what our youth is watching and start focusing on what our youth is living as a part of their reality. Better sex education for every age should be the priority for NCPCR and other responsible governmental institutions to ensure a better implementation of the POCSO Act. If the past court case about ‘skin-to-skin’ contact being a criteria for sexual assault is any indication, even adults need to be educated about these things. We need to broaden our scope and improve the society we live in.
After all, it is more often that art imitates life, and the other way around is rather rare.