A person like Pahlaj Nihalani,
who has always been in controversies ever since he joined the Central Board of
Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the Censor Board, as its chief
decision maker in January 2015, how can he be a blessing in disguise for the
film watchdog that routinely exceeds its brief and goes on censoring films on
flimsy grounds like we saw in the 'Udta Punjab' case?
But when we see the tough
responses from the government after the uproar over 'Udta Punjab'
censorship/certification issue and some snubbing remarks against Pahlaj
Nihalani, we can sense something positive is about to happen.
If Pahlaj Nihalani's term becomes
a trigger for it, it will be a real blessing in disguise.
And if it happens so, it will be
a much needed reform languishing for years.
India's CBFC has become
synonymous with controversies. The pace has only exacerbated with Pahlaj
Nihalani at the helm of affairs. Sometimes he finds a children movie like 'The
Jungle Book' scary enough to give it a U/A-certificate that requires adult
supervision. Sometimes he objects to kissing scenes in James Bond's latest
flick 'Spectre'. He finds ‘Aligarh’, a film on homosexuality, not less than an
A-certificate. This is when legalizing homosexuality is a raging debate in
India and the matter is in the Supreme Court. This is when India has had many
gay pride parades in the recent past.
The list of Pahlaj Nihalani’s
antics is long - including his botched attempt to show a five minute clip in theatres
on Narendra Modi’s achievements. His attempts to insert the clip during
intermission breaks of Salman Khan starrer ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ failed
But CBFC’s controversies go well
beyond Pahlaj Nihalani.
In 2002, ‘War and Peace’, a film
by Anand Patwardhan, was blocked by the Censor Board as it contained 9/11 US
attacks and nuclear-testing scenes. The board asked for many cuts. The board’s
diktat was finally overturned by the court. The board banned 2003 film ‘Gulabi
Aaina’ (The Pink Mirror – the global release title), a sensitive portrayals of
transsexuals. The film has been critically acclaimed the world over but still remains
banned in India. This is when India had already seen some brilliant films on
eunuchs, like Kalpana Lajmi’s ‘Darmiyaan’ in 1997. The board initially blocked
the 2004 documentary ‘Final Solution’, based on 2002 Gujarat riots, but
relented later on and cleared it without any cut after protests. Filmmakers of
the 2011 global hit ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ didn’t release in the
film in India after they found CBFC’s demand of cuts unreasonable.
These are just a few major
instances on how erratically our Censor Board has been acting.
Also, it has been an open secret
that how money exchanges hands for a film to get the CBFC certificate. The
arrest of CBFC CEO Rakesh Kumar in 2014 on bribing charges had created a storm.
Many filmmakers then had come out in the open to speak how difficult and
money-laced it had become to get a film passed through the Censor Board. The
episode showed how corruption had become a way of life in the statutory body
that regulates public exhibition of films in India. In fact, corruption in the
censor board/film certification watchdog has become common to the extent that
no one now pays attention to it.
Now if that Censor Board sees
some fundamental changes, because of Pahlaj Nihalani's illogical attitude on
‘Udta Punjab’, Mr. Nihalani's term indeed would be a blessing in disguise for
everyone who loves freedom of expression and feels disturbed over the bizarre
ways of CBFC.
Information & Broadcasting
Minister Arun Jaitley has given ample indications in this direction hinting
'radical changes' in the functioning of the film watchdog. His deputy Rajyavardhan
Rathore had tweeted, "Certification only, not censorship".
To cement the Pahlaj Nihalani
angle here, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a public snub, said prime
minister Narendra Modi didn't need sycophants. The snub came after Pahlaj
Nihalani tried to portray himself as a Narendra Modi loyalist by saying that
'he would feel proud in being labelled a Modi Chamcha (sycophant)’.
Also, a central government counsel
told the Delhi High Court yesterday that CBFC would not challenge the Bombay
High Court order in the Supreme Court. Later in the evening, the Censor Board
issued certificate to the film. If we say that there has been a personal grudge
on the part of Pahlaj Nihalani in the ‘Udta Punjab’ controversy, as the
filmmakers allege, it amply reflects in the certificate issued. The certificate
mentions names of two justices of the Bombay High Court who cleared the movie.
The Censor Board had never done so earlier even if the courts have regularly
overturned the board’s decision. Additionally, there have been allegations
flying that the Censor Board is responsible for the leaked print of ‘Udta
Punjab’ that is available on many torrent websites.
Pahlaj Nihalani was already on
the radar. After a spate of controversies, the I&B Ministry formed a CBFC
revamp committee headed by eminent film personality Shyam Benegal this January
and its draft report is already in. To make matters worse for Pahlaj Nihalani
in the 'Udta Punjab' case, after watching the film, Benegal had remarked that
it was a 'very well made and technically sound' film. After the Bombay High
Court verdict, he went on the say that the verdict should bring a paradigm
change in CBFC functioning, i.e., as a certification body and not some
Hope this happens now. CBFC
should be made relevant. The changes in its structure and functioning should
reflect the needs of the times we are living in. Kissing scenes were
controversial once. Now they are quite common even in TV serials. When we
debate logics behind the ban culture country, from books, to films, to
websites, to TV content - how can we follow this draconian practice of banning
a film only because it will highlight a social malaise? We should, in fact,
welcome such efforts. As alleged, politics should not be allowed to make CBFC a
theatre of the absurd with hopeless credentials. After all, when we have the
power to think, decide and elect our government, can't we decide on the good
and bad messages of a film? The government should have no role in telling us
what to eat, what not to eat, what to wear, what not to wear, what to watch,
what not to watch, where to go, where not to go - unless we violate the
Constitutional norms - unless we break the law.
And for 'Udta Punjab' - the film
is set to release tomorrow in theatres after clearing four court hurdles and
CBFC. The Bombay High Court on June 13 had cleared the film with just one cut
against Nihalani's demands of multiple cuts including omission of references to
the names of all places in the film including Punjab. The court firmly backed
the film fraternity's sincerity and its need for freedom of expression in
choosing subjects of films. Yesterday it was in the Delhi High Court and today
the Supreme Court and the Punjab & Haryana High Court refused to put a stay
on the release of the film.