Film censorship has always been a subject of debate in India. Post the appointment of veteran filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani as the new Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief, the decibels of this debate have shot up, with many filmmakers accusing Nihalani of unnecessary moral policing.
Unfazed by these controversies, Nihalani thinks that all this noise against him is because he has set out to do what the censor board prior to him failed to do. “I have been in the industry for a long time and I have taken the responsibility to do justice with my work. I have seen a lot of young filmmakers clear their films by giving away money. I believe that mainstream movies are like picnic in entertainment and not like any festival film where you can show whatever you want to.”
Coming down on the filmmakers who belong to the festival circuit, Nihalani added, “The festival circuit is degrading the image of India worldwide. They love to focus on areas like Dharavi and some remote parts of Bihar and present that in an exaggerated way. For example, Slumdog Millionaire only focused on the weak points and never spoke about the other aspect of this country. It’s very easy to use CBFC as a marketing platform because if you are criticising CBFC you are getting attention, which may not be deserving most of the times.”
Nihalani is someone who loves to speak his mind. Explaining how his tenure at CBFC has given a hard time to filmmakers who used to bypass CBFC regulations using their clout, Nihalani added, “Corruption used to be a reality in censor board but now the practice has been completely banned. And whatever content is coming for certification, 82% movies are certified without any cut despite the fact that we have only three rating systems compared to the six in developed countries.”
Ask him about the face-off with media regarding censorship of films, and Nihalani retorts that some filmmakers are using the CBFC platform for the purpose of cheap marketing. “First, I believe that the media is not fully aware of the process of film certification and this leads to unnecessary controversies. Sometimes, the media plays up the issue, for example, Bahulbali 2 has many cuts but it has not come out in the open and there was no controversy about it. Even after watching it with cuts no one has noticed anything. But if it were leaked in media, things would have been different. So, sometimes, filmmakers like to create controversy to sell their films and they misuse the media too.”
There is no doubt that despite being a smaller industry compared to IT, Petroleum or Defence, Bollywood manages to command a dominating mindshare. Given this nature of the film business, the censor board moves are closely observed. Sharing the challenges in front of the censor board and how he plans to overcome them, Nihalani added, “We are facing a lot of issues in giving censor certificates and there needs to be more awareness about what we do. For example, we even receive complaints against TV shows because people don’t know where to complain, despite the fact that they have a self-regulatory body in place. The big challenge is to make the people and the media understand that the censor board is not about curtailing creativity; it is about ensuring that existing guidelines are put into practice the way they should be.”
(These are excerpts from a discussion between Pahlaj Nihalani and Anurag Batra, exchange4media’s Editor-in-Chief, at the Women Economic Forum)