The CBFC chief Pahalaj Nihalani may be asked to leave the Censor Board on the heels of a string of high-profile controversies. A High Court in Kerala may also issue a contempt of court notice against him.
Most recently, Nihalani said that he thinks scenes showing stars drinking and smoking should be blurred.
Nihalani’s tenure at the Board has been marked by controversies and conflicts. Many filmmakers have complained that the CBFC chief acts in a high-handed manner, and infringes on their right to freedom of expression and creative pursuit. Films such as An Insignificant Man, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Udta Punjab, Spectre, Phillauri, An Argumentative Indian, Ka Bodyscapes, and Indu Sarkar have all met and crashed against a wall of moral policing by Nihalani. TV Shows, documentaries, film festivals, have also been criticised and censored by Nihalani.
Nihalani first gained notoriety when he ordered that the kissing scene between Daniel Craig and Monica Bellucci in Spectre be cut. That triggered a thousand ‘Sanskari Nihalani’ memes.
Nihalani also made no secret of his admiration for the country and its current right-wing ruling party. He became known as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sycophant fan, making a video called “Mera Desh Mahaan”.
Even the BJP was embarrassed by this and it led to the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry of India wanting him sacked.
Last year, he called for an absurd 89 cuts in Udta Punjab, and demanded that the makers of the Arvind Kejriwal documentary An Insignificant Man get a No-Objection from all the politicians shown in the film. He demanded similar clearance from a film on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but made no such requirement for Indu Sarkar, a film based on Indira Gandhi and her family. He later made a U-turn on that decision, and demanded that Madhur Bhandarkar get the film cleared by the Gandhi family.
More recently, banning Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha for being too “lady oriented” gained him further flak as Censor Board chief. He went on to insist that filmmakers get censor certificate for films shown at film festivals, and took offense at the IIFA, first for ignoring Dangal and Rustom, and later, for apparently mocking him.
Today, Nihalani has taken objection to stars shown smoking or drinking on screen.
In an interview with The Quint, Nihalani said that when an actor with a fan following of millions drinks and smokes on screen, it sends the wrong message to fans and viewers.
“Merely putting a ticker warning at some remote corner of the screen whenever there is smoking or drinking shown, is not enough any more. We feel the superstars who are followed by millions and who set an example in societal behaviour must not be shown drinking or smoking on screen unless the provocation for doing so is really strong,” he said.
In the recently released film Munna Michael, Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character, a gangster, was featured drinking alcohol albeit it was blurred. In fact, any liquor bottles shown on screen will be blurred, according to this new ban order by the CBFC.
In light of these controversies, the I&B Ministry is contemplating asking Nihalani to step down, as per a report in the Indian Express. When pushed by journalists on whether he would quit, Nihalani at first allegedly said he would quit gracefully and make way for his successor, but subsequently denied saying this. He also claimed that journalism had hit a new low with speculating that he would quit.
These are the only quotes that I provided to Mr. Subhash K Jha. I haven’t spoken to any other TV or Print media regarding my dismissal news. pic.twitter.com/QJWmiyobWC
— Pahlaj Nihalani (@NihalaniPahlaj) July 26, 2017
Nihalani’s term is due to end in January 2018, but a report in the Mid-Day now states that the Kerala High Court will issue a Contempt of Court notice to him for refusing to certify Ka Bodyscapes. Nihalani’s inaction caused the filmmaker a lot of trouble, due to a delay in the film’s release for 9 months.
A source from the Board told the outlet, “A screening (of Ka Bodyscapes) was held for the CBFC in February, following which Pahlaj and his team refused to certify the film. The HC ordered him to give his verdict in May, and sent subsequent reminders.” However, Nihalani resisted certification to the film, which prompted the court to issue the contempt notice.
A report in the Times of India now says that a meeting of CBFC members has been called by Nihalani in Thiruvananthapuram on July 28. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sources suggest that Nihalani might be replaced at the end of the meeting.
Among the names in consideration to replace Nihalani are filmmaker Prakash Jha and TV producer-actor Chandraprakash Dwivedi. Madhur Bhandarkar is also being considered.
Prakash Jha was the producer of Lipstick Under My Burkha, which means that the two people being considered to replace Nihalani are the two who have most recently clashed against him on certification issues.