This post contains spoilers.
In the blockbuster rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, which finally arrived in India over the weekend, Constance Wu’s character Rachel Chu encounters a nasty surprise in the midst of a luxurious island getaway.
It’s a pivotal scene: Bored at a bachelorette party for Singapore’s richest of rich, Rachel returns to her private villa to find that the women, jealous of her relationship with the country’s most eligible man, have dumped a dead fish on her bed. On the window, written in fish blood, are the words “Catch this you gold-digging bitch.”
But Indian viewers didn’t get to see this. In fact, for those who haven’t already read Kevin Kwan’s book that inspired the film, it can take a while to figure out what exactly Rachel found on her bed because the country’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) decided to blur it out (as well as the word “bitch”).
On Sept. 24, Crazy Rich Asians received a UA (Unrestricted Public Exhibition-But With Parental Guidance) rating from the CBFC, after weeks of confusion over whether it would release in India at all. But on its website, the CBFC lists all the changes it requested, including blurring the sight of the “killed fish kept on bed” and muting words such as “suck(s),” “slutty,” “skanks,” and the phrase “shave your coo-coo chara” (referring to genitalia).
Its justification for the missing fish? A clause in India’s Cinematograph Act of 1952, which requires that scenes “showing cruelty to, or abuse of animals, are not presented needlessly.”
But in both the movie and the book, the mutilated and bleeding fish serves as a wake-up call for Rachel, opening her eyes to how she’s viewed by the status-obsessed Singaporean elite. She is the Chinese-American daughter of a working-class immigrant, distinctly outside the world of old money that her boyfriend, Nick Young, comes from. It’s also a pretty hilarious contrast coming after all the luxurious food, fashion, and flowers enjoyed by Singapore’s high society.
Of course, censored words and blurred bits are nothing new for Indian audiences. The Cinematograph Act gives the CBFC sweeping powers to cut out words, objects, and scenes it finds offensive or provocative, and it’s used these powers extensively over the years.