If the situation were not so grim, some of CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani’s responses in his interview to the Hindustan Times, would surely qualify as stuff that good comedy is made of. In his inexplicable defense of the board’s clampdown on Udta Punjab — a film crafted around Punjab’s overwhelming drug problem — Nihalani has proven for the umpteenth time how unqualified he is to occupy the office he currently holds. He not only believes that films should be based in unreal situations and imaginary locales, but also holds the notion that people do not swear in Punjab unless they are under the influence of drugs.
Here’s a nugget from the interview: “When Udta Punjab came to us for certification, we found the film carpeted with the filthiest abuses. Almost every line that Shahid Kapoor speaks is filled with the most explicit abuses and gaalis (expletives) that even I had never heard,” Pahlaj Nihalani tells interviewer Subhash K Jha. He further explains: “We said ok let him abuse when his character is under the influence of drugs. But, why should he talk like that when normal? Who speaks like that in every day conversations?”
Well, it seems that Pahlaj Nihalani is not only clueless about the fundamental concept of films and filmmaking, he is grossly out of touch with reality as well. Perhaps he needs to walk around the streets of North India and connect with real street talk that he apparently is not familiar with. Abuses, the censor board chief should know, are firmly lodged in North India’s masculine aggressive culture. Men use expletives like they would use punctuations in a sentence.
In fact, so common is the random use of such abuses (remember the crude mother-sister Hindi swear words) it’s often difficult to tell whether the abuses are used in friendly jest or sheer anger! For Nihalani to claim that people get abusive only under the influence of drugs makes absolutely no sense in this context.
The censor board chief also doesn’t seem to comprehend what a disclaimer means, or for that matter, a work of fiction. “Udta Punjab claims to mirror the truth about the whole of Punjab. According to the film, 70 percent of the youngsters are drug addicts,” says Nihalani. It’s surely embarrassing to have to remind Nihalani — who claims to have a distinctive record in filmmaking — that Udta Punjab carries a disclaimer to say it is a work of fiction.
When the interviewer actually asks this basic question to Nihalani, here’s how he responds to it. “What is the disclaimer worth when after claiming to be a work of fiction the film proceeds to name every major town in Punjab, from Amritsar to Tarn Taran as a drug den? How is it a work of fiction when you are naming real towns from Punjab?” Of course, all this is topped up with the pompous statement — “We couldn’t allow Punjab to be damned and labeled a drug haven”.
Nihalani should perhaps educate himself on the alarming proportions of drug abuse in Punjab. Considering the censor board usually tends to lean towards films with strong moralising content, one wonders why Nihalani did not actually welcome Udta Punjab, a film that reveals the dark underbelly of drug addiction in Punjab.
It also raises the question of whether Pahlaj Nihalani would be so bothered about so-called negative perception of Punjab had there been a Congress government in power in the state; or, if the political parties were not gearing for assembly elections next year. That the censor board chief has already labelled Anurag Kashyap, the film’s co-producer, a “sponsor” of the AAP, accusing him of having “taken money” from the party, gestures towards the political calculations behind the row. Kashyap, for his part, has asked all political parties — including the Congress and the AAP — not to meddle in a matter that is strictly to do with his film and not electoral politics.
It’s easy to see why Kashyap has gone all out to lay the blame squarely at the censor board chief’s door. In a tweet that has become famous now, Kashyap said, “It's my fight Vs a dictatorial man sitting there operating like an oligarch in his constituency of censor board, that's my North Korea”. And we do seem headed that way.