Pahlaj Nihalani sacked: Why Vidya Balan's appointment as CBFC member is a welcome change
In 2005, she made her debut in a Bollywood film called Parineeta, after many unsuccessful attempts at trying to become an actress. 12 years later, in 2017, she is a member of the newly appointed Central Bureau of Film Certification (CBFC), headed by Prasoon Joshi, who replaced the controversial Pahlaj Nihalani.
That Vidya Balan is a good actress with the ability to perform many different type of roles, whether it is in mainstream films or more offbeat ones, is a widely held opinion. What can be predicted based on her career thus far is that she is a good pick for the board, which had been suffering from bureaucratic, corruption-related issues in the midst of longstanding attempts to amend The Cinematograph Act.
Balan has been an insider in the industry since her Hum Paanch days in the 90s. She has seen Indian cinema evolve over the years; from masala films like Karan Arjun, to family entertainers like Hum Saath Saath Hai, to brave films like Damini, to the typical Govinda dance-and-comedy flicks like Hero No. 1, to Anurag Kashyap's brand of raw cinema and the increase in the number of films sensitive about women's issues. She has been witness to the changed way in which cinema is consumed, in terms of braver content, more risque subjects, an increasingly unabashed portrayal of things which are considered taboo, such as violence, and a more nuanced storytelling style.
This is not to say that all of Bollywood has progressed and that no regressive content exists. But an awareness of the direction that cinema is taking today is necessary for two things to occur: A fair judgment for those films which are considered problematic — such as Udta Punjab, which highlighted the prevalent problem of drugs in the state and was met with opposition from the CBFC — as well as taking a keen eye to those films which may actually be a cause of concern because of their content, such as films which normalise caste atrocities or violence against women.
Think about it this way: Would Vidya Balan, who sensitively brought to life the character of a former sex siren and her eventual downfall in The Dirty Picture, say no to a 'lady-oriented' film like Lipstick Under My Burkha?
What is also of importance is that she is still currently a part of the film industry and doing films while holding her position. In the past, chairpersons and members have largely been people who had either retired from their careers, or were part of the industry in small capacities (with the exception of Anupam Kher and Hrishikesh Mukherjee). Balan is being offered lead roles in films and commands a definite return of investment at the box office. She is in touch with the realities of the film making industry and plays a large part in it.
I would argue that this is a requisite for a board member, considering that the last CBFC chief said that censorship is necessary to protect India's culture and values because film makers would insert pornography, if let loose. The last time he was actively a part of any film was in 2008, when he produced Khushboo.
The prediction that Balan's appointment will be good for the future of Indian films is also based on her filmography. Sure, she has done her share of commercial entertainment movies like Kismat Konnection and Heyy Babyy, but later in her career, she went on to play strong characters in films which are not afraid of making a statement, whether it is Abhishek Chaubey's Ishqiya or Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani.
She knows her craft through and through, which she has honed over the years. Her association with and exposure to Sidharth Roy Kapur is also of note, as it will give her an inside look into the world of producing films.
A board which decides what audience a film deserves and what subtractions should be made from its narrative (considering censorship is still one of the CBFC's functions) should consist of people like her, who understand what goes into the making of a film. One of the reasons why Pahlaj Nihalani was criticised by directors and producers is that the cuts he and his team would suggest would be both arbitrary and absurd. Take for instance the removal of the word 'lesbian' from Dum Laga Ke Haisha, or the decision to ask the makers of xXx: Return of Xander Cage to remove a scene where women are pouring alcohol.
Of course, it would be entirely wrong to assume that this issue of baseless censorship started with him, it has existed in the tenure of previous chairpersons too. The whole question of deciding what must be removed from a film and what is integral and organic to its story is extremely subjective, and if not dealt with properly, can result in a loss for the film's director most importantly, and also Hindi cinema in general. Balan, as a celebrated actress, is likely to have justifiable answers to such questions.