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Censure board?

Under Pahlaj Nihalani CBFC earned the notoriety of being tyrannical and scissor-happy. Newly-appointed board chairperson Prasoon Joshi, the film industry feels, has on his hands the task of significant course correction20 Aug 2017 | 12:14 AM[ + read story ]
Censure board?

Beep, beep, cut, cut… as long as the lord of controversies Pahlaj Nihalani remained at the helm of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), he and the films he censured/censored made headlines. 

Nihalani's exit and lyricist poet and ad guru Prasoon Joshi’s appointment as the new CBFC chairperson is indeed not just a routine change of guard. There is much to read here, may be a lot to cheer, if Nihalani’s words “god bless those who are celebrating my departure” are to be taken seriously for once. If there was little doubt about Nihalani’s absurd ways of working, there can be no questions about Joshi’s finesse as a poet and sensitivity as a writer. But can one man’s elevation and another’s sacking be the answer to all issues that ail filmmakers?

Director Hansal Mehta, whose film Aligarh ran into trouble with the CBFC, doesn’t think it’s fair to put the blame of all that’s wrong with the outdated cinematograph Act on just one person. Certainly tempers ran high when Mehta’s Aligarh, a film on homosexuality, was given an adult certificate, stalling possibilities of the film’s promotion. Time and again producers or directors found themselves at the receiving end. The list of movies that had to bear the brunt of CBFC, running in hyperactive mode under Nihalani, is endless: Udta Punjab, Spectre, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Babumoshai Bandookbaz…. Rare was a film that did not have a run in with the man obsessed with sanskar, Indian ethos and values. Lip locks, abuses, use of words like intercourse… anything and everything even a reference to a city or state could raise his hackles.

But with Nihalani out of sight, Mehta can perhaps rationalise that may be Nihalani was just implementing rules, or following the information and broadcasting ministry orders. If the latter is true, uneasy lies the time ahead. Ashoke Pandit, former member of CBFC (during Nihalani’s tenure) however, is more scathing in his assessment. He believes, “Rules were merely a fig leaf with which Nihalani tried to cover his misdeeds. Which rules say there had to be a banned list of cuss words? Or that words like Kanpur and Kishore Kumar can't be referred to. Nihalani wanted directors to make films as per his individual sense and sensibility. Which filmmaker would agree to that?” Besides, he reminds that the same films he censored were ultimately either cleared by FCAT or the courts. 

Pandit believes Joshi is the right man for the job. “In sync with today's times, Joshi understands the world cinema and has worked with the very best makers in the country.” Mehta, however, feels that the CBFC should not be personality driven, instead be guided by crystal clear guidelines. That’s precisely why he would not jump the gun and hail the newly constituted CBFC as the panacea. 

Actor Aahana Kumra stands pleased and fearless like the bold character she played in Lipstick Under My Burkha, the film that was even denied certification and is rumoured to be the real trigger for Nihalani's ouster. She says, “I am hopeful that with Joshi as the chairperson and actors like Vidya Balan on the board, path-breaking films, especially women centric subjects, will be viewed favourably.” Producer director Prakash Jha who has been at loggerheads with the CBFC has only one word answer — no censorship. 

Is absence of censorship a guarantee of good cinema? May be not… after all there is censorship in Iran and the country's makers have been producing world-class cinema. In a democracy that India is, artists feel strongly against censorship which they insist connotes backwardness, just as George Bernard Shaw would say, “The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

Whether Joshi can ensure that scissors are laid to rest remains to be seen. Right now Joshi, too, doesn't have the answers, only claims to have the right intent. And that's what really matters feels Pandit. “If Nihalani had the inclination to change, instead of bothering about nitty-gritties, he would have worked towards implementing Benegal committee recommendations which have been around for a year now.” Mehta is not sure whether the Benegal committee guidelines are a fit-all solution or that there can be a please-all policy. But Pandit reasons, “If implemented, Benegal guidelines would be a good start for sure.” Propelled by Joshi’s vision who clearly doesn’t endorse micromanagement, he foresees happy times for the Indian cinema. Round one of sniping and snipping may have lasted too long but for now votaries of cinema seem to heave a sigh of relief and reassurance.

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