Why the CBFC Chief Pahlaj Nihalani must be censored from the Board

For the uninitiated, Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani is the Chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification, the body that certifies films made in India. The certificate in white, having letters “U” or “A” or the like, you see at the start of a film, is issued by this Board, thereby classifying a film under any of the various categories for viewing by the public. Naturally, CBFC acts as a filter between the mother-copy of a film and what’s finally projected onto the silver-screen. It is therefore essential for this body to be sane, sensible and sensitive to any film that makes its way to its office. Touted to be one of the most powerful certification boards in the world, it is also the most controversial, more so in the last few years thanks to Mr. Nihalani’s absurd way of handling things.

It is not just Mr. Chairperson himself that’s a cause of worry but the mentality he seems to so strongly advocate. Imposing meaningless and senseless restrictions on or worse, banning every movie that’s not aligned with his own interests, ideologies and beliefs, Nihalani has been garnering widespread criticism from the moviegoers. “Against Indian culture” seems to be the most used phrase by the Board to defend its cuts and bans. “Hurting the sentiments of a certain section of people” is another statement in defense. While I am of the opinion that any unnecessary, out-of-context offense to any section of people must be dealt with a tough stance, I hold the ban of progressive, coming-of-age, world cinema on the shaky grounds of “tarnishing Indian culture” against the Board. As many as 95% of all cuts, and nearly all bans, have been unjustified actions. The Board’s defenses have been too thin to be taken seriously.

Allow me to take you down the banned road. Nihalani’s deep-seated, arrogant conservatism became public knowledge and received much attention when Spectre released a couple of years ago. A kissing scene was cut very short because the Board thought it was “too long”. Now, Mr. Nihalani, would you be so kind as to explain how long is good enough for you? Our film makers will make sure to time the scene perfectly down to the nanosecond. The same year, the word ‘lesbian’ wasn’t allowed in the very sweet Dum Laga Ke Haisha. I must remind here that there are as many as two dozen other words the Board chose to mute. Unfreedom is a 2014 film which dealt with the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, it was banned. Reason? “It is not Indian culture”. SMH. More recently, the Malayalam film Ka Bodyscapes was denied a release citing similar reasons. I don’t know what the fate of India’s first silent LGBTQ+ film ‘Sisak’ is but I can bet good amount of money it’s never getting a theatrical release. You cannot ban films just because you lack the knowledge and maturity to understand them, sir. The Konkana Sen Sharma and Ratna Pathak Shah starrer Lipstick Under My Burkha met with the same fate and the reason the Board gave for this will leave you wondering which century we live in. “It is a lady-oriented film”, the Board opined before shutting doors on the film. Forget the yet-to-release movies, Mr. Nihalani also went on record to say that films like PK and Gangs of Wasseypur should not have been released. And this is NOT okay. All these are films of some appreciable substance and a nerve to talk about the hush-hush taboo topics, and a potential to usher in a wave of meaningful, effective cinema.

This is NOT okay for two reasons primarily. First, when you ban films, you are not just taking the film away from thousands of people, but you are also banning ideas. You are banning thoughts. You are banning a conversation. In 2017, does it make sense to ban a film saying it is “lady-oriented”? I mean, what is going on? What is your problem with, you said and I quote, “lady-oriented” films? Are you trying to say you are a male chauvinist, a bigot, and cannot tolerate women being the way they want to? If that’s the message you are trying to put across, well Mr. Nihalani, message received. Secondly, when you are banning a film, you are curtailing a filmmaker’s freedom of expression. An old man such as you must realize that this means denying someone their fundamental right.

Also, it is noteworthy to highlight here how hypocritical Mr. Nihalani seems to be. Mr. Nihalani himself is the maker of Anil Kapoor’s Andaz, in which a song goes “khada hain, khada hain”. The man also produced Govinda’s Aankhen, a film that’s home for Bollywood’s sleaziest moves. Nihalani’s ‘masterpieces’ were all famous for their songs with energetic pelvic thrust dance moves. Is this the man taking Sanskaar classes for us?

In any case, sir, the movies you banned are at least a thousand times better than the ones you made. The movies you banned dared to talk about the unspoken and the unaddressed. The movies you banned were made to start important, much-needed conversations in our dining rooms about topics that are staring at us in the eye but seldom get attention. But you were too blinded by your conservative, arrogant, primitive mindset to realize this. You had your way, went ahead and brought down the curtains on these films. But one day, it will stop. You will stop. The audience will make you stop. And one day, you will have to step down, one way or the other.