Animals in Films

Instant communication across the world is now taken for granted by every one. Different ideas are exchanged constantly among individuals and projected to the public via the Internet and TV. Praise from likeminded persons, and strong objections from others, has been the outcome. Animal rights activists have been irked by those having scant respect for life. When limits are crossed with bizarre and weird attention-seeking cruelty to animals, protests have been initiated and some times action taken to halt it. Rightly so in view of the fact that human cruelty towards animals is a stepping stone to criminal action against fellow humans.

No doubt, direct visible cruelty to animals draws attention and objections, but cruelty can also be promoted subtly like if an actor wears a rabbit fur cap, e.g. Sara Zamana.

There are quite a few objectionable programmes presented on TV in India. One called Iss jungle sé mujhe bachao is a copy of the American programme I am a celebrity, get me out of here. This programme, shot in the Taman Negara rainforest of Malaysia had animals like snakes, rats, scorpions, bugs, frogs, lizards, used in different challenges.

There are other reality shows like Dadagiri on UTV Bindaas channel, Khatron ke Khiladi on Colors channel (South Africa), and Roadies on MTV channel (Australia) which use animals in most of their challenges. The wild animals used in these programmes are caught from forest areas and are subjected to cruelty during capture and transport. They are handled inhumanely, defanged, tranquilized, etc. so that no “mishap” occurs during the programme. Capturing these animals from the wild is in itself extremely cruel. Nothing can be worse than keeping them in captivity, and training them is torture.

In 2009 Beauty Without Cruelty wrote to the Minister of Information and Broadcasting (Government of India) highlighting the following points:

• Capturing, trapping, injuring, destroying, snaring, etc. is considered as hunting and hunting is a cognizable offence under The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Also there is a ban on exhibition under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001. Furthermore, these programmes violate Rule 6 of the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. (For details see Legislation page on this website.)

• The makers of these programmes are well aware of the cruelties they inflict and the related laws. This is the reason why many of the programmes are shot in countries like South Africa, Malaysia, and Australia where animal laws are lax. Although shot in foreign countries the final product (programme) is shown on Indian television. In all fairness, every programme (irrespective of the country it has been shot in) aired on Indian television should abide by Indian laws.

• Such programmes not only violate Indian laws but they also influence viewers to try some dangerous stunts which could prove fatal. For example, many unfortunate deaths of children were reported in 1997 due to the famous television programme Shaktimaan (Super hero). Children had jumped off a building or set themselves on fire, thinking that Shaktimaan would come and save them.

Animal Actors

Today’s animal actors may not be treated as shockingly as the blind tigress Uma Devi who in the 1980s had a mouth stitched for performances, but nevertheless, the animals supplied for filming undergo gruelling training and made to perform as per commands under bright lights and unnatural conditions.

The late Cheeka was a Pug who acted in the first Hutch (now Vodafone) advertisement in 2003. She was replaced by a series of Pugs. Incidentally the Pug came in because the scheduled Fox Terrier fell ill in Goa where the shooting was taking place.

Now every time two dogs are present so if the dog doesn’t follow orders the other is used.

Tiger was a Labrador and appeared for the Panasonic advertisement in 1991. He then appeared in 50 other ads including a Maruti ad with a Sardar boy, who drove his toy car over his napping grandfather’s belly and under Tiger’s tail.

Not only dogs, but directors’ demands for other creatures in films have all been met – 500 rats for 2000 Hindi film Josh, and cockroaches for Hit ads.

The sorry state of the Sholay horse Superman shocked the Mumbai High Court in April 2012. In human years he is 95 and is poor shape and uncared for since he can no longer work for his supplier for Bollywood shoots.

In September 2021 a horse was involved in a head-on collision and died during the shooting of the film Ponniyin Selvan in Telangana.

In November 2021 following a number of complaints that it is not easy for animals to perform before blinding lights, cameras and crowds, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) issued an Advisory to the makers of films, shows and ads that CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and VFX (Visual Effects) should be prioritised instead of involving live animals in shoots. However, the producers expressed reluctance because they felt live animals work better, moreover they want to remain within their budget which they feel they easily can only if live animal actors are utilised.

The advisory stated “animals are requested to be transported to far-off film studios and locations, sometimes even outside the state perimeter. At film sets, already stressed animals are exposed to crowds, artificial lights, chaos, and often dressed up in costumes and made to follow commands to deliver the scenes. Against their natural instincts and behaviour, animals are forced to do unnatural actions such as driving, riding pillion, playing musical instruments and other physical gestures. A film set is a frightening and distressing environment for animals. This increases the chance of animals getting startled and hurting themselves or others, causing all involved unnecessary pain and suffering. When not working, these animals spend most of their lives chained or in cramped, filthy, barren cages, deprived of everything natural and important to them, often including the companionship of others of their own species.

“Further, it is stated that welfare of animals on-set and off-set both is imperative. Off-set to ensure a desired output from an animal at a film set, trainers routinely use methods that involve coercion or punishment to force animals to perform, causing them unnecessary pain and suffering, violating Sections 3 and 11 of the PCA Act. The Board is in receipt of numerous complaints reporting that many animals have died or been injured at production sets for films, TV shows and other digital contents due to accidents and that they are often forced to spend hours in a stressful environment.

“In this regard, it is stated that few Film production companies are increasingly using technology that also upholds animal welfare. Between 2016 and 2020 majority of the films sought permission to show animals as Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). Many Indian films such as Tanhaji, Mohenjodaro, Krrish, Makkhi and Maghadeera have used computer-generated animals in the film.

“In view of the above, it is advisable that the effective methods such as Computer Generated Graphics (CGI), Visual Effects (VFX), and animatronics should be prioritised instead of involving live animals. in films/ad-films etc. in order to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering to animals during exhibition and training.”

Despite the above advisory issued by the AWBI, for the TV serial shoot on the life of Dr B R Ambedkar at Film City in Mumbai, 2 horses were made to draw a carriage at high speed and crashed into a boom barrier in July 2023. One of them fractured his leg but Sobo Films seemed unconcerned since the horses were supplied by an agency.


BWC thinks that television programs like these have got our message loud and clear. All the same, there have unfortunately been films in which cruelty has been depicted and when they have been brought to the notice of BWC, a protest has been registered immediately.

One such film was Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara which we were informed included bull-fighting. Months prior to completion of the film, BWC approached the producer with a request to delete the scenes. It was pointed out that people did not like to see such cruelty and in fact many Indians do not visit Spain due to its gory bull-fights. No reply was received, but when in July 2011 the movie was released, we were pleased that BWC’s request had been heeded and no bull-fights were included although bulls were shown running through crowds.

In January 2011 Dadagiri season 4 on UTV Bindass declared: “The reality show will test not only physical
but also mental agility and sharpness of the contestants. Watch the teams perform tasks like holding a crab while they struggle to deposit it on the other end of the pit on one elbow and plucking out goat’s eyeballs to fetch a five rupee coin from inside of a goat’s intestine!”

The reaction to the barbaric cruelty depicted in the promo and in the first episode telecast on 15th January was shock and anger. Beauty Without Cruelty was flooded with complaints. In turn, BWC immediately wrote to UTV Bindass channel and the Government pointing out that The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 had been violated. BWC also led a strong protest on Facebook and on e-mail. Consequently, "comments" on the Dadagiri season 4 website were closed.

Although UTV's response said it was a "misunderstanding" (sic!) they also stated in the same letter addressed to the BWC Chairperson that "We appreciate your concern and have made sincere cognizance of your feedback... We completely understand that such an act would be barbaric and under no circumstances would allow such an act to take place on our channel."

BWC had hoped that our successful protest would be a deterrent to other film makers and that they would abandon depicting cruelty to animals in their programmes. Over and above which BWC did not imagine that any of the GenX Entertainment shows telecast on UTV Bindass would again have any thing to do with animals – dead or alive. But, unfortunately, they did: Beg, Borrow, Steal, Woof! episodes had a dog-actor, which apart from the fact had had its tail docked, was so exhausted that it was seen panting with its tongue hanging out throughout. BWC wrote UTV that simply stating “no animals were harmed during filming of the show” can not in this case absolve them of the cruelty inflicted upon the dog, and requested that cruelty to animals on their shows is stopped immediately. Their reply stated that “We have the necessary approval from the Animal Welfare Board for the dog used in the shoot of Beg Borrow Steal.” It’s sad that once again the AWBI failed in safeguarding an animal and allowed the film industry to exploit it. BWC can’t help but wonder what conniving takes place.

In July 2011 Colors channel broadcast the programme Khatron Ke Khiladi, Torchaar 4, Episode 13, Part 4 depicting a poor crocodile being subjected to cruelty. It was restricted in a glass box no bigger than itself, had its mouth tied, and contestants were tugging and pulling at its tail. BWC immediately complained to the Indian Broadcasting Federation – their action is awaited. Following this, BWC came across another episode in which a  teased and growling cheetah/leopard was repeatedly released from a cage and made to chase an animal which had been tied to a long rope and was dragged by two contestants who were running – just like live bait. Moreover, a serious problem was reported on the sets when the contestants were made to snatch the meat from the mouth of a lion. The handler/trainer himself got terrified because the furious lion jumped seven feet high and ripped the cage apart. Citing safety, the stunt was deleted. A letter has been written by BWC to the Ministry of Environment & Forests requesting that action should be taken to stop Khatron Ke Khiladi being broadcast because it attracts the provisions laid down in both the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Another complaint has also been sent to the Indian Broadcasting Federation saying it does not matter where in the world the cruelty occurred, the fact is that such cruelty did occur and the films are being telecast in India violating these Acts as well as Rule 6 of the Programme & Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

In April 2012, a Shanti Nilayam episode on Jaya TV (Tamil) showed a mouse in a cage with suggestions as to how it should be killed. A lady said it should be put in a gunny sack and crushed to death. Another felt that creatures like mice deserve no mercy since they cause harm to other lives. Shockingly, the poor mouse was compared to the terrorist Kasab. BWC wrote to the head of Jaya TV requesting that they put specific rules in place with regard to airing cruelty to animals.

Belly of the Tantra was completed in 2012 but since it was not passed by the AWBI, the Censor Board objected to it being screened in India. However, it did premiere in India in June 2014. The director was quoted: “The Censor Board wanted visuals of frontal nudity and animal killings removed. I was firm about not letting them go.” BWC has written to the AWBI to find out the action taken by them and its status. Their reply: “This is a documentary with a very strong anti-sacrifice message. Nothing has been staged.”

BWC also asked the AWBI about another film entitled Finding Fanny – a poster showed the actress with a beheaded chicken in one hand and a bloody knife in the other. Their reply in July 2014 stated: “We gave the pre-shoot permission last year. We have not cleared the film since they have not applied. We will send a letter to the Mumbai RO and CBFC.” We understand it was released about a month later with the scene intact. BWC then got to know that there exists an authorised agent who liaises between the AWBI and film makers, and that after multiple refusals, the AWBI cleared the film on being furnished bills for a toy ‘dead cat’ and chicken purchased from a slaughter house (to prove the film makers had not killed it) along with a veterinarian’s certificate. Does it point to connivance? Is it difficult to get bills? If the cat was a toy for which a bill was shown, why was a veterinarian’s certificate needed? Do people who eat chickens kill them?

In case you come across films that are objectionable from the animal rights point of view, please let us know immediately so that some thing can be done.

The AWBI’s Performing Animal Sub-Committee claims that quite often they find scenes in films which they neither saw, nor cleared. Pre-shoot permission is first granted, following which a CD of the clips is viewed and cleared. After the AWBI gives their NOC, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) passes the film. TV channels do not need approval from the CBFC so that’s how they by-pass the law and their programmes showing animal cruelty get easily telecast. Later, some film makers claim to having used computer graphics, whereas others conveniently claim to have forgotten to mention all scenes in their application to the AWBI.

Meanwhile in mid-2012 the Central Board of Film Certification relented by tightening rules and plugging loopholes. Next, the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) issued an Advisory on Depiction of Animals/Wildlife in Television Programmes to TV channels “not to produce, support the production of, purchase and broadcast content that is in any way harmful to the health and well being, as well as the depiction, or any animal or species”. Click here to read the entire advisory.

In 2013, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation were informed by BWC that more and more TV channels were telecasting gruesome cookery demonstrations that depicted raw bloody flesh of animals, birds and fish; and that some times live creatures were torn apart, beaten or scalded in boiling water. Such scenes were repulsive to viewers, particularly if vegetarian or religious. The Ministry promptly assured BWC that the channels would be advised suitably. We hope the advisory is linked to a fine.

In 2023 Elephant Whisperers won the Oscar. The spring 1998 issue of Compassionate Friend had carried an article entitled “A performing Circus within a Sanctuary”. A persistent follow-up by BWC eventually resulted in The Government of India ordering the illegal Elephant Show at Madumalai Sanctuary to be stoppe. This is the very same elephant camp where Elephant Whisperers was made. The Hindu article “Theppakadu camp: the last refuge for elephants destined to captivity” clearly states “since the camp was started 51 calves have been born with 32 having been raised and given to temples. Interestingly, not only elephants have been exploited here, but humans too: as things turned out the two elephant caretakers Bellie and Bomman of the documentary legally claimed to have been exploited and not paid as per promises given by the film makers.

For the record other films produced in India featuring elephants are Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), Main aur Mera Haathi (1981), Jumbo (2008) and Junglee (2019).

Page last updated on 14/08/23