Pahlaj Nihalani, farewell: Your brand of sanskaari censorship will be missed (not)
Dear Pahlaj Nihalani,
So long. Farewell.
I am sad to see you go. I hope you know that you will be missed. The last two-year-and-a-half years we’ve spent together have been so memorable.
It seems like just yesterday when you took over from Leela Samson, who had suddenly resigned over the cinematic masterpiece MSG: The Messenger of God. Samson, along with 12 members of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), quit amid complaints of political interference and corruption. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, minister for Information and Broadcasting and a rare piece of eye candy in the corridors of power in Delhi, made all the right noises.
‘No government or political interference’ in the CBFC is what Rathore promised. Then he promptly named you, Mr Nihalani, a self-confessed “BJP person”, who has called Prime Minister Narendra Modi his “action hero” and “the voice of the nation” to head the board. Detractors said you were being awarded for the viral video Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi (launched before the 2014 general elections). That same Diwali, you proved all your critics right by releasing 'Mera Desh Hai Mahaan', another tribute to Modi. “If this is chamchagiri (sycophancy) then I am proud of it,” you said. As a wise woman (fine, it was Taylor Swift) once said, ‘Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate’ so you kept shaking it off.
In this short time, you gave us #SanskaariJamesBond and a U/A certificate to the children’s film The Jungle Book. You worked tirelessly, against public opinion, to protect our weak, impressionable minds from hearing un-sanskaari words like 'intercourse' and watching ‘lady-oriented’ films. And, then there were all those homosexual films (Unfreedom, Ka Bodyscapes, Aligarh)! All you were trying to do was preserve the fabric of our parampara. After all, like you said, “India is a land where people put Gangajal on their face”.
The press might have loved you but Bollywood definitely didn’t. But they should! The Udta Blank (I agree with you, Mr Nihalani. Using a state’s name in a film about the drug epidemic in that state is wrong) fracas brought together an industry that’s always been divided. Your demand for 89 cuts is what brought Mahesh Bhatt, Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap on the same platform.
This, for me, will always be your biggest contribution to Bollywood. Even greater than Anil Kapoor pulling his lungi and singing ‘Khada Hai, khada hai, khada hai’ while trying to lure Juhi Chawla into bed.
It’s such a shame your three-year tenure was so abruptly cut short. There was so much more we still needed you to censor and ban. You promised to censor films online. And, what about films that don’t get censored before they are screened at international film festivals? Who will ban smoking and drinking on screen? *sob*
In your place, we now have Prasoon Joshi, a writer of poems and new-fangled ads. Will he even know that words like saala and saali need to be banned or how long a sanskaari kiss should be? Will he cut the troublesome Anurag Kashyap down-to-size? Will he be dictatorial and love Modi as much as you did? Like you, I also hope that your ‘successor doesn’t succumb to false notions of liberalism propagated by the pseudo-progressive elements in our film industry and work in a direction opposed to mine’.
The age of Sanskaari Nihalani has come to an end. The only thing stopping me from collapsing into a puddle of tears is your promise ‘I am returning to my first love, film production, in a big way’.
Let’s not say our final goodbyes as yet. I have a feeling we’ll meet again soon.