Pahlaj Nihalani sacked: From Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Sharmila Tagore, a look at previous CBFC chiefs
"The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952," reads the description mentioned on the CBFC's website.
It is a common belief that the CBFC has always been a certification board. But, ever since its formation in 1952 when the Cinematograph Act was passed till 1983, when the rules of said act were revised, the panel was known as Central Board of Film Censors. Even before this, during the 1920s, there were independent regulatory censor boards in cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lahore (now in present-day Pakistan) and Rangoon, (now in present-day Burma), as per a report by The Pioneer.
Not much information is available about people heading the certification board during the pre-Independence era, but some of the office holders after 1947 were luminaries of Indian cinema. While some helmed the board with aplomb, there were some whose tenures aren't as memorable (of course, Pahlaj Nihalani tops the chart).
Hrishikesh Mukherjee (1981-1982):
Hrishikesh Mukherjee is known to be one of the most prolific filmmakers of India. He began his career in films by assisting Bimal Roy as an editor and assistant director in iconic films like Do Bigha Zamin and Devdas. He later made films like Chupke Chupke, Anand, Mili, Bawarchi and Golmaal, to name a few. He is considered to be among the first to create films which had aspects of both commercial cinema and realistic art-house cinema. Most of his films had big superstars playing roles of ordinary people. Khalid Mohamed, in one of his pieces, said that he was "the most enlightened" of all the CBFC chiefs.
Shakti Samanta (1991-1998):
Samanta is credited to have launched a lot of yesteryear superstars. His major films include the Madhubala-Ashok Kumar-starrer Howrah Bridge, China Town, Kashmir Ki Kali, An Evening in Paris, Aradhana, Kati Patang and Amar Prem. These films were major blockbusters of their times, and featured phenomenal performances and music. His understanding of cinema was a major contribution to the CBFC with respect to certifying films.
The Aradhana director held the seat for seven years. Much like one of his predecessors Mukherjee, Samanta also had a fruitful tenure as the CBFC chief. Before them, the seats were held by either bureaucrats or people who weren't directly related to the art of filmmaking. But with Samatha and Mukherjee, things changed for good.
Asha Parekh (1998-2001):
She was an A-lister actress with many hits in her kitty. She took over Samanta after his tenure ended. Incidentally, she also starred in Shakti Samanta's Kati Patang opposite Rajesh Khanna. In spite of her glorious Bollywood background, Parekh was mired in a small controversy when she was the CBFC chief. During the release of Shekhar Kapur's 1994 film Bandit Queen, Parekh had objected saying that "crudity in name of reality" cannot be allowed in films, as reported by Tribune India.
Kapur had a second run-in with the CBFC under her chairmanship with his Academy Award-nominated film Elizabeth. Apparently, the director wasn't happy with the cuts Parekh and her team had ordered. He went on the record to call Parekh "ignorant, irresponsible, arrogant and arbitrary". Parekh, of late, has also spoken in support of Nihalani saying that "CBFC is simply doing its job," reported Deccan Chronicle.
Vijay Anand (2001-2002):
Anand belonged to the family of one of Bollywood's most loved actors, Dev Anand, who was his older brother. Anand's 1965 film Guide, with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman, established Vijay Anand as a popular filmmaker in Indian cinema. Some of his most memorable films are Johny Mera Naam, Jewel Thief, Tere Mere Sapne and Teesri Manzil. He even acted in critically-acclaimed films like Kora Kagaz opposite Jaya Bhaduri and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki with Nutan.
If anyone could be the runner-up in the CBFC's list of controversial chairpersons after Nihalani, it would certainly be Anand. During his reign, he was mired in controversies when he proposed the introduction of a new certificate 'XA' which would allow soft-pornographic films to be screened in India without cuts. This was suggested as a revision of existing Cinematograph Act of 1952. When his plea was rejected, he put down his papers saying, "I was thinking of an act that would hold good for 2052, but the Government prefers to stay in 1952," reports India Today, in one of its early reports. He has also reportedly given green signals to many films which were given red signals in their respective regional CBFC offices, one of them being Aparna Sen's Mr & Mrs Iyer.
Anupam Kher (2003-2004):
Anupam Kher is a name that everyone has heard of. He is an acclaimed actor, known for his character roles, who has also witnessed tremendous success in the commercial films he has starred in. According to a report by The Hindu, the then I&B ministry had approached Dev Anand to take up the position that his brother had left vacant after leaving the seat in protest. Anand, however, refused the offer stating preoccupations. It was then that Kher was approached, and he readily agreed.
His tenure was quite short, and he wasn't involved in any controversies.
Sharmila Tagore (2004-2011):
Tagore served as the chief of the CBFC for the longest time. Like Asha Parekh, Tagore too, came from a background of filmmaking. Having worked with industry stalwarts and legends like Satyajit Ray, Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Shakti Samanta to name a few, Tagore was an apt choice for the position.
During her long tenure, she was at the forefront when it came to dealing with the press regarding the certification given to certain films at that time. She tried her best to introduce a new category of certification for children above the age of 15. She didn't get involved in any controversy as such, although she had issues with film titles like Kaminey and Yeh Saali Zindagi. But she knew how to work her way through changing times and societal norms.
Speaking to IANS, Tagore had said, "Most of the filmmakers want their movies to be certified under 'U/A'. But that is just not possible. How can you show sex to a six-year-old child? How will the child interpret it? I admit that today's young directors are connecting with the younger audience, but if you are using a slang, I can't give you a 'U/A'. This is why I am pushing hard to get another category, because 15-plus kids speak that language. They use the 'F' word more often and all those slangs; so yes, there is definitely need of that fifth category."
Leela Samson (2011-2015):
Noted Bharatnatyam dancer Leela Samson assumed office in the year 2011. Her selection was welcomed by many on the one hand, and raised many questions on the other. People were skeptical about her ability to understand the nuances of filmmaking, as she belonged to a dancing background.
However, after four years, she decided to resign stating "interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the ministry" as the major reason. When the film, MSG - The Messenger of God, featuring Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, got a clean chit from FCAT, she decided to resign.
Now with Nihalani going out and Prasoon Joshi stepping in, it will be a matter of great interest to see how Joshi fares.