By demanding 89 cuts in Anurag Kashyap’s film ‘Udta Punjab’, Pahlaj Nihalani, the chief of the Central Board of Film Certification of India (CBFC) may have bent over backwards – yet again – to appease the government. But this is not the first time that the CBFC, also referred to as Censor Board has made outrageous demands to gag creativity.
The present generation might not be aware of a Hindi film that was made four decades ago—Kissa Kursi Ka—directed by Amrit Nahata, who was also a three-time MP. In the last 40 years, the incidences related to this film might have gone out of public memory, but it remains the most classic, textbook case of the government of the day blatantly coercing a filmmaker.
Kissa Kursi Ka (A tale of a throne), a spoof on the politics of Indira Gandhi and her younger son Sanjay, was not just banned during the Emergency in 1975, but its negatives were confiscated and destroyed at an auto plant in Gurgaon (which later became Maruti Udyog).
This political satire not only spoofed Sanjay Gandhi but people close to Indira Gandhi’s coterie—like her private secretary RK Dhawan, her guru Dhirendra Brahmachari and Rukhsana Sultana, a close associate of Sanjay Gandhi. After Nahata submitted the film to the Censor Board for certification in 1975, it was sent to a revising committee and finally to the Central government. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting headed by minister Vidya Charan Shukla (popularly called VC) slapped a show-cause notice to Nahata raising 51 objections. As Emergency had been declared, all the prints including the film’s master print were confiscated from the CBFC office and burnt at the auto factory in the presence of Sanjay Gandhi and VC.
The rest is history, as a legal case ran for 11 months. The Shah Commission, established by the Janata government to inquire into excesses committed during the Emergency, held Sanjay Gandhi guilty for burning the prints. Both Sanjay Gandhi and VC were sentenced to a month and two-year jail term imprisonment respectively. Sanjay Gandhi was denied bail. The verdict was later overturned. During the Janata Party government, the public finally got to see the film in 1977.
There are numerous instances of the Censor Board playing the role of ‘’His Master’s Voice.” Besides Kissa Kursi Ka, more than two dozen of Hindi films faced the Censor Board’s axe for various reasons from political pressures to high octane sexual content.
But two prominent and award-winning acclaimed films which were gagged, though for a limited period by the board, for political undertones were Garam Hawa and Aandhi.
Garam Hawa (1973): Directed by MS Sathyu with Balraj Sahni in the lead role, Garam Hawa was held back by the CBFC for eight months as they feared that the movie could instigate communal riots in the country. The movie showed the agony of a Muslim family during the partition of India. However, the film was highly acclaimed, achieved success and won prestigious awards.
Aandhi (1975): Directed by Gulzar and based on the novel by Kamleshwar, Aandhi was a political movie allegedly based on the life of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her relationship with her estranged husband. It was banned when Indira Gandhi was in power. The film showed the main lead Aarti Devi portrayed by Suchitra Sen smoking and drinking. But, in reality only the look of Aarti Devi was inspired by the politician Tarkeshwari Sinha and Indira Gandhi. The movie was banned after 20 weeks of its release as Emergency was declared. Later, during the Janata Pary-rule, it was again released and aired on Doordarshan.
The other lesser known yet appreciated ones were:
Amu (2005): Directed by Shonali Bose, with Konkona Sen Sharma and Brinda Karat in lead roles, this movie revolves around the 1984 riots where thousands of Sikhs were massacred. The movie faced the wrath of the Censor Board and it was cleared only after making six “politically motivated” cuts and with an “A” certificate.
Parzania (2007): Directed by Rahul Dholakia and David N Donihue, the movie has the backdrop of communal riots in Gujarat. Though the film had an all-India release, it was banned in Gujarat. It was only after an initiative by civil rights group ANHAD that it was shown in some parts of Gujarat.
Inshallah, Football (2010): A documentary film by Ashvin Kumar was about an aspiring footballer who was denied the right to travel abroad on the pretext that father was a militant in the 1990s. The film faced difficulties in getting the necessary censor certificate due to its highly sensitive and political content related to Jammu & Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court on Thursday has pulled up the CBFC over the controversy surrounding ‘Údta Punjab’. The Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh has declared that it would release the uncensored copies of the film at Majitha in Punjab on 17 June.
Will Censor Board take lessons from past?
Despite succumbing under government pressure, the then Censor Board could not prevent Kissa Kursi Ka from becoming a powerful tool for the Janata Party in destroying the Indira Gandhi-led Congress in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls. The film created a strong controversy and built a negative perception amongst the minds of voters against Indira Gandhi-led government.
Will CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani take some lessons from the act of his predecessor’s mistake?