Pahlaj Nihalani’s term as chairman of the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) comes to a close in January 2018, but he seems to be in no mood to bid a controversy-free goodbye. In the latest, Nihalani’s board has suggested 48 cuts in Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s upcoming film, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, in order to get certified.
Allegedly, the film’s producer Kiran Shroff was humiliated by the examining committee for the language and the story-line of the film. According to a Times Of India report, a member of the committee remarked, “How, as a woman, could Kiran make a film with so many abuses”.
Kiran told TOI that when she met Pahlaj Nihalani, he told her, “You are lucky I’m not banning your film…What are these abuses? Do you plan to make a dictionary of bad words?” Asking her to remove a line that has the word ‘ khada’ in it, Nihalani said, “‘I will never let it pass because I am abused for my song ‘Khada Hai Khada Hai’ to this day.’ I’ll fight this till the end.”Also, the Censor Board is yet clear Jayan Cherian’s Ka Bodyscapes, a movie that was submitted for censoring in April 2016. On July 25, the Kerala High Court, examining a plea filed by Cherian, asked the Censor Board to review the movie in a week. Subsequently, on July 28, a team of CBFC officials watched the film in Thiruvananthapuram, but is yet to arrive at a final decision, according to an NDTV report.
The film, a love-story of two men, is set in Thiruvananthapuram. Among the Board’s objections is that one of the lovers is a staunch RSS activist, and a reference to the Hindu deity Hanuman.“The protagonist is a gay painter. And, one of his masterpieces is a painting of a nude person flying with books, which includes the anti-homosexuality clause of IPC 377. It has no reference to Hanuman,” Cherian was quoted by NDTV as saying.
Nihalani, during his tenure at the CBFC, has made ridiculous statements aplenty, with regard to censorship and movies that do not pertain to ‘Indian culture’. He made his political affiliations clear in an interview to The Hindu in January 2015.
“I don’t mind being (conservative) called that if I have to serve the nation. You have to take care of the new generation, on whom the future of the country depends. So, how can we allow ourselves to give them wrong education? The Censor Board is very liberal. But, what is the modern generation watching? We are giving them the license to see anything. How is this projecting our culture? There are free channels for all this. But, this is cinema. Everything is free online and, as you can see, the youth is misusing it. Even for the online platform, I feel there should be rules, and material should not be uploaded without censorship.”In 2016, when his Board refused to certify Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab without a whopping 89 cuts, filmmaker-producer Anurag Kashyap accused him of being a stooge of the right-wing, to which Nihalani responded, “Yes, I am a chamcha of Narendra Modi as Anurag Kashyap said. I am proud to be a Modi Chamcha (acolyte). Should I be a chamcha of the Italian Prime Minister, instead?”
In an attempt to ‘protect Indian culture’, in November 2015, the Board cut short the length of the kisses in Hollywood film Spectre by 50%, to much rage on Twitter. The hashtag #SanskaariJamesBond trended for hours. He also made a list of cuss words that couldn’t be used in films. However, in August, the list was withdrawn after a majority of board members voted against it. The list had many contentious words, including “Bombay”.
In March 2015, he refused to clear Raj Amit Kumar’s Unfreedom, citing that if the film released, “Hindus and Muslims would start fighting”, and that it would also ignite “unnatural passion”.The same year, he cleared the trailers of adult comedies such as Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 and Mastizaade, which were high on sexual content. When questioned, he told DNA, ““We are in a Catch-22 situation. Karo toh gaali, na karo toh gaali. When we were strict with the vulgarity quotient, we were called prudes. Sanskaari became a gaali. And, to endorse obscenity was seen worthy of taali. So, we certified some films with scenes and dialogues that we would otherwise have never passed as they went against our guidelines.”
Reportedly, the Censor Board, under Nihalani’ leadership, refused clearance for 77 films in 2015-16, as against 47 films in 2014-15 and 23 films the year before that.
If Team Udta Punjab was Nihalani’s arch rival in 2016, the biggest controversy he courted in 2017 was in connection with Alankrita Shrivastava’s recently released Lipstick Under My Burkha. Shrivastava submitted the film for a Censor certificate in December 2016. The Board refused to clear the film, citing reasons such as the film was ‘lady-oriented’.Later, he denied using the term ‘lady-oriented’, but stood by his decision to not clear the film. Later, he accused Shrivastava of lying to the media about the Censor Board and using the controversy for publicity. ” These are tactics to draw attention to her film. You tell me, what’s the only point of curiosity about the film? That the Examining Committee rejected her film? She has been cashing in on that for months now,” said Nihalani.
In July, Nihalani wanted a ban on lead actors smoking on screen. “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.Refusing to pass a scene in Imitiaz Ali’s upcoming Jab Harry Met Sejal, for it had Anushka Sharma’s character using the word ‘sexual intercourse’, Nihalani said, “I want 1 lakh votes and I want to see that India has changed and Indian families want their 12-year-old kids to understand the meaning of this word (intercourse).” He added, “I’d accept votes only from people who are married and above the age of 36.”
But, when Mirror Now went back to him with the lakh votes, Nihalani kept mum, and refused to comment.
There are four months left for his term in office. And, it’s anyone’s guess what Nihalani might come up with next.