Pahlaj Nihalani sacked: Prasoon Joshi's appointment shows I&B ministry cares about Indian cinema
There is no other way of putting this but perhaps the ouster of Pahlaj Nihalani, as the Chairman of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a welcome move, which, in the opinion of this writer, was long overdue.
Amongst the numerous firsts attached to the now former CBFC head, this one about being given the boot would perhaps be the best thing to have happened in the course of his tumultuous tenure.
The controversial and embarrassing memories of Nihalani as the boss of CBFC — including instances as finding a kiss in a James Bond film, Spectre, too long or asking for a 100,000 votes from the public to clear the promo of Jab Harry Met Sejal with the world ‘intercourse’ in it — would soon be forgotten as a series of bad dreams thanks to the choice of his successor, Prasoon Joshi.
More than the good optics of getting someone such as writer-lyricist Joshi, who also happens to be a much talked about ad-guru and the CEO of McCann World group India, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision to appoint him with immediate effect for a period of three years or until further orders suggests that finally there is someone who understands what needs to be done with the CBFC to initiate an overhaul.
More than anything else, Pahlaj Nihalani’s appointment by the then I&B Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley in 2015 made one think that either the Ministry did not care enough or had no idea of what they were doing. In both cases, the results could have been disastrous and the way things played out, the reality far exceeded the worst fears.
As a film producer Nihalani’s sole claim to fame could be discovering Govinda, who he launched in Ilzaam (1986) but other than that the only other thing people knew about him was the downright vulgarity in the songs from one of his films, Andaz, ‘Khada hai, hhada hai’ and ‘Main maalgadi hoon dhaka laga.’
Prasoon Joshi’s appointment as the chairman of the CBFC is also an indicator of the perspective that the newly appointed Information and Broadcasting Minster Ms. Smriti Irani might be looking at the Central Board of Film Certification with. There has been a long overdue need for structural changes within the CBFC, whose primary takes is to certify films into categories for viewing by the general public but the fact that it has to operate under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952, a six and the half decades old law, somewhere makes it difficult to function in a regular manner.
The Cinematograph Act has perhaps not been updated in accordance with the changes in the society and as the CBFC must certify film into the handful of existing categories it often ‘suggests’ certain changes for a film to ‘fit’ into them. This is where things get complicated. These suggestions, and at times some even the ones that are out rightly bizarre such as Nihalani asking to reduce the duration of a kissing scene in a James Bond film, can seem as diktats for a denial of certification from CBFC essentially means that the film cannot be screened.
While there are various methods of redressal available to filmmakers, the bigger challenge is to bring CBFC to keep pace with the times.
It is here that the Chairperson of CBFC, as well as members of the board, can play a great role, which, to put it simply was too much to expect from a Pahlaj Nihalani. In fact, one of the board members during Nihalani’s tenure, Ashoke Pandit, openly derided the ousted CBFC chief functioning on his own accord, curtailing of creative rights and shading things with his own thought process.
In that aspect, it is refreshing to see names such as Gautami Tadimalla, Vivek Agnihotri and Vidya Balan as new board members. Perhaps ultimately the entire CBFC that operates on a law that is more than half a century old and censorship could be done away and replaced with a method of accreditation of films solely on viewership (such as for 18 and above, etc.).
That would be more suited to our times but until that happens it’s steps like getting to be a part of CBFC that promise hope. More than anything else, the likes of Prasoon Joshi, Vivek Agnihotri or Vidya Balan are people who operate in the today’s industry and considering that this is a period where Indian cinema is in some way truly coming of age, their presence in CBFC ought to be celebrated.