CBFC : Banned-its of the Film Industry

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A daunting movie crew displaying an accomplished on-screen reality on the war of drugs in one of the prime states of India; an outburst and an outrage over the 89 cuts in it by the so-called censoring (whose real job is certification by the way) authorities; finally Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani settling on 13 cuts; then a High Court verdict turning the tables on CBFC’s (Central Board of Film Certification) decision; subsequently, a torrent leak of the film before its Friday release.

The makers had had it enough (going by Anurag Kashyap’s earnest request on Facebook minutes after the film’s piracy).  It’s time CBFC ceased its dogmatic approach and as the HC pointed out rightly- stop being a grandmother to all. In fact, this is a plunging disrespect even for the grandmothers who enjoy the contemporary Bollywood in the cinema halls with their families. What is it with censorship anyway? The law perfectly deems the importance of ‘freedom of speech’ in an egalitarian society and prohibits only the display of content which undermines the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Then why does the Board have to satisfy its own prejudiced interests?

This gives rise to a number of questions. If the CBFC takes umbrage to the film’s continuous reference to Punjab and its political scenario, then why did it never find the underlying theme in movies like Gangs of Wasseypur explicitly offensive?  Ofcourse Mr. Nihalani not being the chairperson of CBFC at that time is one reason, but apart from that I sense a political whiff in the air. Gangs of Wasseypur illustrated the crime-polity of coal mafia in Dhanbad, Jharkhand. It received a triumphant success among the audience and Anurag Kashyap was applauded for bringing the real life on screen. Did it have direct references to the state? Yes. Did the movie contain expletives and violence? Yes. But little does Mr. Nihalani understand that Indian audience has come of age over time. It can sensibly boo the Salman Khan starrer Jai Ho without thinking twice and on the other hand, celebrate films like Queen which experimented with an entirely new genre. Such is the power of people. Then why, in a state with thinking individuals, does CBFC have to scrupulously exercise its power?  Anurag Kashyap, who is known for his impactful films, painstakingly tries to show the world like it is; and by threatening his creativity the budding amateurs as well as the existing creators are being devoid of the space that is rightfully theirs.

The Government of India urges the artists to creatively raise awareness regarding social evils and other unlawful and vile practices. Isn’t that what Udta Punjab was all about? About the dreaded conditions that each addict finds himself in? Nihalani’s censoring of this film was hence, equivalent to condemning the citizens’ right to awareness regarding widespread narcotics and alcohol addiction.

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Back when adult comedies like Kya Kool Hai Hum 3 and Grand Masti were approved by the authorities, I was content that CBFC did have some progressive mindsets in its hierarchy. Well, I am no big fan of this genre and in a country which idolizes cinema in such a profound manner, I was satisfied that the censor board had respected the director’s right to freedom of expression. I too, like the majority, am a supporter of the same. Though I would never buy a ticket for the soon-to-release Great Grand Masti but I will surely not stop others from going to the cinema. Isn’t that what right to choose and freedom of expression all about?

Anurag Kashyap released the first look of his movie Haramkhor, based on real life student-teacher romantic relationship in a small Gujarati town, on 8 March 2015. It has been released in all the film festivals since then, but denied entry into Bollywood. Nawazuddin Siddiqui was even accoladed with the ‘Best Actor’ award in the 15th New York Indian Film Festival for the movie. Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani is yet again wiping out an entire genre which needs attention.

Remember how even James Bond couldn’t do anything when his own film was censored? Spectre was released as a ‘PG-13’ movie in the USA but was stamped with ‘Adult’ content in India. CBFC reasoned that the intimate scenes which were censored didn’t impact the overall storyline of the film. But is that reason enough?

USA has 5 categories namely –

G : General audience (all ages permitted)

PG: Parental Guidance suggested

PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned (some material may be inappropriate for children under 13)

R: Restricted (Under 17 requires parents’ guidance) and

NC-17: No one 17 and under permitted

It wouldn’t hurt to have more categories like these in India as well where the directors and producers can release their content without much hassle. Plus, CBFC has been in news time and again for editing scenes and expletives in movies. Why can’t it just consult both- the film fraternity and the law- and lay out a set of reasonable guidelines which are in accord with the present times? There have been umpteen films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Bandit Queen and documentaries like India’s Daughter which have been denied releases in India. The CBFC fears that the Indian audience might be offended by the content, when in reality, rape and torturous scenes are a way of sensitizing the Indian mindset against such evil. I don’t really understand why The Jungle Book had suffer a U/A while it was rated as for the general audience (G) all over the world. There has been limiting of everything that one can see or not see that a furore as to the basis of granting ratings to the films has emerged.

Editing some movie scenes by reasoning them as unfit for the viewers is directly proportional to telling the audience that it is a fool. That it cannot decide what is worth watching. That it cannot differentiate between real and fiction. That it does not have a right to choose and needs to be tamed.

As per the High Court, “The power to exercise deletion and cuts should be consistent and in consonance with provisions of the Constitution and directions of the Supreme Court, so that creative freedom is not curtailed.” It is time CBFC heeds the advice. I could rant for another 500 words, but I fear somewhere Mr. Nihalani would catch hold of me. It is not up to the censor board to tell what people should see and hear, but if it still wants to edit, it is time it start with its hierarchy.

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