Babumoshai Bandookbaaz: Pahlaj Nihalani-led CBFC has put freedom of expression in a traffic jam

Pradeep Menon

Aug,03 2017 16:28 03 IST

India's so-called 'Censor Board' is no stranger to controversy, more so in recent times. A combination of sanskaar and socio-politics has made sure that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is always in the news, for deciding what Indian citizens can and cannot see.

With the controversy over Kushan Nandy's Babumoshai Bandookbaaz being the latest to erupt and spark an outrage, the one perspective that usually seems lost in the debate around censorship, is that of the filmmaker(s) - the minds, bodies and souls that have gone into making the film and putting it out there.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz.

Here's the thing: Most filmmakers, particularly those making films without the backing of major studios and stars, are resigned to the sheer scale of the battle it is, to — first, get your film funded; second, make your film (because a production of any size is an inevitable nightmare); and third, get it out there, for the world to see.

A hold up at the Censors' is par for the course, with full knowledge that the rules that define the scope and reach of the CBFC's powers are, at best, arbitrarily implemented.

Then, there is the additional problem of getting an 'A' certificate and still being asked to make cuts. In the case of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, we're talking about a whopping 48 cuts. (News about the alleged misogyny experienced by a female producer of the room, at the hands of the Censor Board, is another debate altogether – a systemic flaw that also deserves sustained efforts to reform.)

There is no doubt that the liberal stance in the censorship debate would be to have no censorship at all, just a certification. However, the lack of strong liberal outrage over Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkaar, for instance, means that the outrage ends up being politically-driven, almost always.

Indu Sarkar.

The Congress party's supposed 'spontaneous' protest to Indu Sarkaar is as detrimental to freedom of expression, as the Pahlaj Nihalani-led Censor Board's assault on content that doesn't suit the BJP-led establishment's idea of what sanskaars India should receive from its cinema.

And stuck between these two political ideologies, is every filmmaker who has a story to tell, and the audience, which has the full freedom to choose what it watches.

Back during the Congress-led UPA days, Vivek Agnihotri's Buddha in a Traffic Jam was another film that got unforgivably delayed due to political machinations.

As a free-thinking filmmaker, I believe Agnihotri's film is a half-baked attempt at making a political point. But also as a free-thinking filmmaker, I believe he has the full right to make the film he wants. As per the Constitution, the government can help decide what age group the film is suitable for, so that the film can release as is, with appropriate certification.

Agreed, at best that sounds idealistic, at worst, that sounds downright naive. But it is with this naive idealism that every filmmaker steps out to make a film, and stifling that voice is a thorough disservice to the art and craft of cinema, a powerful tool to expose the Indian audience to all kinds of stories, ideas and ideologies.

Opining, debating and criticising a film through all kinds of media must be encouraged, once the film releases, as long as there is no physical violence.

The point behind every outrage on the CBFC’s over-reach is that we strive as close towards this kind of open, informed environment for cinema. This is yet another desperate call for reason, with a promise that every such incident will continue to find resistance from filmmakers and true fans of cinema.