Has Nihalani Taken on More Than He Can Chew with Udta Punjab?
NEW DELHI: Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani has done the impossible. He has mobilised the diverse and rather cranky Indian movie industry into a surge of unity against him. The demand for his removal is gaining ground with powerful filmmakers and actors rallying around Udta Punjab and rejecting the 89 cuts imposed by him on the movie just before the Punjab elections.
Filmmakers have questioned Nihalani’s intentions, asking if he is in place with an agenda. They have pointed out that the role of the Censor Board is to determine the certification and not redefine its role into advising the directors and determining the content of a movie. It is clear to well known Bollywood filmmakers and actors now that the man who was brought in by the government to head one of the most important bodies is living up to his boast, “I am proudly saying that I am a BJP person” by moving in with 89 cuts to stop the release of Udta Punjab just before the Assembly elections in the state.
The Akali Dal had earlier protested against the movie, based on drug abuse in Punjab. It is in alliance with the BJP in the state.
Nihalani who coined the slogan “har ghar Modi, ghar ghar Modi” during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has incensed the Indian film industry to the point of forging rare unity, defended his ‘remove all references to Punjab’ from the movie, saying all allegations against him were baseless and the cuts had nothing to do with the Punjab elections. Nihalani who has produced a music tribute to PM Narendra Modi who he describes as “my action hero” told NDTV in an interview, “Only if one sees the entire film can one understand why 'Punjab' was deleted.”
Clearly Anurag Kashyap is not convinced, and has been all over the media pointing to the 89 cuts that he said included not just the removal of the word Punjab, but also parts of the dialogue that had earlier been cleared by the census.
Nihalani has been in the eye of the censor storm since he became the chief on January 19,2015. He has raised concerns in India’s large film industry about the role of the censor board and his own agenda through a series of controversial decisions. After being appointed as the censor board chief he issued a new set of strict guidelines under which even few Hindi or English curse words will result in an A-certification for the film. He also said that depiction of violence against women will be discouraged and it will be ensured that no content which may hurt religious sentiments will be allowed. However this was withdrawn after a huge backlash.
His decisions that seek to reinvent the role of the Censor Board into a proactive body include deleting the kissing sequence from James Bond movie Spectre and granting an A certificate to Aligarh. Aligarh, starring Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee, is based on the real life incident of professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was fired from his job because he was gay. A bold movie but for Nihalani it was a cheap publicity stunt by Director Hansal Mehta.
On 12 March 2015, CBFC member Ashok Pandit and Chandraprakash Dwivedi, criticised the way in which Nihalani was running the organisation. On 9 July 2015, he implemented a new rule under which A-rated films were no longer allowed for television broadcast. Earlier, A-rated films could be re-cut, to get a U or U/A rating and released on television.
Nihalani justified his decision by saying that past A-rated films contained horror or violence, but most recent A-rated films have sexual themes and so they cannot be re-cut.
Film fraternity people are demanding Pahlaj Nihalani step down as the chief and they even held a meeting with Information and Broadcasting Minister for State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore regarding the same .The makers of the film, however, have reiterated that “Punjab” cannot be separated from the film.
Big names of Bollywood have come out in support of Anurag Kashyap’s Udta Punjab, and have raised objections against the whole idea of “censorship”.
“Delusion or collusion? Why is the establishment so scared of films that mirror reality? #UdtaPunjabCensored,” tweeted Hansal Mehta who was in loggerheads with the censor board over his film Aligarh earlier this year.
Taking a strong view over films mirroring the realities of society, Karan Johar said: “Udta Punjab speaks of the reality of our times… censoring reality amounts to delusion…the fraternity has to stand by what is right!”
Shyam Benegal, who heads the Censor Board Revamp Committee, will watch the film after the makers requested him to review it. “I don’t know the actual matter as I have not seen the film. I will see it tomorrow and then only I can say something. Before that, it is not fair on my part to comment or say anything on it,” he told PTI.
With elections due in Punjab next year, political parties are using this opportunity for political capital in the state. Rahul Gandhi in one his tweets yesterday highlighted the “drug problem” and blamed the government of the day for the same. He said: “Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring Udta Punjab will not fix it. The government must accept the reality and find solutions (sic).”
Arvind Kejriwal, too, sensing an opportunity supported Kashyap in his fight. But a seemingly annoyed Kashyap “requested” political figures to not “colour” his “fight with any political affiliation”. He said: “I request Congress, AAP and other political parties to stay out of my battle. It's my Rights vs the Censorship. I speak only on my behalf... Rest of you go pick your own fights. I will fight mine... So please don't colour my fight with any political affiliation because there is none.”
The makers of the film are all set to move Bombay High Court against the panel's verdict. It is alleged by various stakeholders that “cuts” recommended in the film is politically motivated. Shiromani Akali Dal, the ruling party of Punjab, fears backlash if the drug issue of Punjab is highlighted before elections next year.