In November 2015, amid much criticism over the misplaced morality of the censor board, its chief Pahlaj Nihalani had dedicated the song 'Mera Desh Hai Mahaan' to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But going by recent events, the tribute to the most powerful man in the country might not quite have had the desired effect on the government.
On Friday, the government announced the formation of a committee headed by eminent filmmaker Shyam Benegal to recommend a holistic framework for the country's film censor board, and to suggest changes in the Cinematograph Act, so that artistic creativity and freedom are not curtailed.
This comes days after Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley called for a revamp of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), saying that he would like it to be 'controversy free.'
While several filmmakers have complained of arbitrary objections and cuts sought by the Board in the recent past, the censor board had got into a controversy at the beginning of the year 2015 when then Chairperson Leela Samson quit along with 13 board members while accusing the government of treating them in a "cavalier and dismissive manner".
Led by 81-year-old Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner Benegal, the panel which has been announced on Friday also includes filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, ad guru Piyush Pandey, veteran film journalist Bhawana Somaaya, National Film Development Corporation managing director Nina Lath Gupta, and the joint secretary (Films) in the information and broadcasting ministry as the Member Convenor.
Asked if filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani's role as CBFC chairman remains untouched with the formation of the panel, Mehra said he isn't the right person to answer this question.
However, Mehra stressed that it's "amazing" that the Narendra Modi-led government has taken a step towards "making a beginning" as far as change film certification is concerned.
Director-producer Onir, whose film Chauranga ran into trouble with the board, welcomed the latest development. "Shyam Benegal is a very progressive human being and filmmaker... Just look at the way women in his films have been portrayed. I am really happy with the decision. I admire his sensibility and his intellectual capability. Right now, the Censor Board needs a big change which he will bring."
Filmmaker Mukesh Bhatt also welcomed the move, saying, ""I welcome this step taken by the government of getting someone of the stature of Mr Benegal to head the committee for the way forward for certification of films in India. I think this is a very positive and healthy move because Mr Benegal has tremendous amount of respect and knowledge in terms of cinema," Bhatt said.
The board has been in the soup for its decisions be it proposing a list of 28 banned words, demanding cuts in films like NH 10, Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Angry Indian Godesses or shortening the kissing scenes in James Bond movie Spectre. Nihalani had defended the list saying, "I have not made up these words. The list was given to me by my office and it was circulated among us. It was not for the media. It was not to be made public. It was given to them to follow the guidelines."
Reacting to criticism over the decision to cut the length of the kissing scenes in Spectre, Pahlaj Nihalani had reportedly said, "This means you want to do sex in your house with your door open. And show to people the way you are doing sex."
"Few thousand people on Twitter don't know what India is. India is a land where people put Gangajal on their face," Nihalani told Mumbai Mirror
In the wake of the furore over the decision, Nihalani was also reported to have been planning to create his own sanskari counter to Spectre. The film has been titled — no prizes for guessing — Sanskari." Of course, last we heard, he had not come up with a storyline for the film. Nevertheless, the title has raised high expectations among film connoisseurs, who might well be wondering if it will match the elegance and sheer class of Mera Desh Hai Mahaan.
With inputs from agencies