Why new Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar is bad news for Indian cinema

Find out why the new Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar isn't good news for movie lovers and cine goers

Suprateek Chatterjee January 16, 2014 17:18:03 IST
Why new Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar is bad news for Indian cinema

A little less than two years ago, Pankaja Thakur, whose reign as CEO of the Central Board of Film Certification just ended this week, was in the eye of a controversy. The CBFC had demanded over 59 cuts in the Vidya Balan-starrer The Dirty Picture when it was to be aired on television and Thakur was being lambasted by industry members, including the likes of Ramesh Sippy and Mahesh Bhatt, for regressive behaviour. Nevertheless, by the end of the meeting, a solution was reached that at least mollified the aggrieved producers of the film.

I met her after that meeting and as we sat down for our chat, she said the CBFC was actively looking at moving forward with the times. “I got flooded with dozens of angry letters complaining about why we passed a film like Delhi Belly (2011),” she said to me, “but I’m glad we did it.”

Why new Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar is bad news for Indian cinema

A screengrab of CBFC website.

This is a statement that is diametrically opposite to what her successor Rakesh Kumar was quoted as saying in today’s Mumbai Mirror . I quote: “I also felt that given his reputation, Aamir Khan shouldn’t have produced a cussloaded (sic) film like Delhi Belly.”

This is irony to the power of disaster in a fortnight that can boast of film releases like Dedh Ishqiya (which Mr Kumar has also expressed his disapproval for), Miss Lovely (a film on Bombay’s C-grade film world that has already been through CBFC hell to reach theatres) and Om Dar B Dar, a postmodernist classic with abstract and decidedly ‘adult’ themes.

How did we get here? The biggest reason is probably the bureaucratic nature of CBFC appointments, which is the only explanation for why Kumar, a former Indian Railways employee, has now been given the job of deciding what content is suitable for Indian audiences. The same system also brought in Thakur, a former Customs officer, who did try to some extent to make CBFC change with the times. So what is it about Kumar that makes him bad news for Indian cinephiles and filmmakers? Take a look at what he has to say about contemporary Indian cinema.

1) “The seriousness in content is missing. Filmmakers are pushing the envelope too far.”

If Oxford or Merriam-Webster ever need an example of the word ‘contradiction’, they should probably use a screenshot of the statement above. What exactly does this baffling statement mean? You want serious content that won't be challenging? And what is “pushing the envelope too far”? How far is "too far"?

2) His sensibilities seem to be defined by his wife and his daughter.

Kumar and his wife walked out of Agneepath because they felt it was too gory. His five-year-old daughter complained that Shuddh Desi Romance had “too much love.” He was embarrassed after watching Yaariyan with his daughter, although presumably not because it was a terrible piece of cinema masquerading as ‘entertainment’. Everyone who voted for Kumar's wife and daughter as representatives of Indian audiences, raise your hand now. Also, how many of you are uncomfortable with a guy who takes a five-year-old to a film clearly rated U/A judging a film? As The Vigil Idiot creator Sahil Rizwan pointed out on Twitter, Kumar doesn't seem to be exercising the kind of discretion he should be enforcing.

In any case, why are Kumar's family members interfering in his professional decision making when they are not, as far as I know, members of CBFC? Is the Censor Board chief drawing a salary (out of the taxpayers’ money) so he can consult his family for decisions that he – a fully-grown, rational adult – should be taking on his own?

On a slightly separate note, is “too much love” a problem that must be fixed?

3) “Gangs of Wasseypur had terrible language and Vishal Bhardwaj retained Arshad Warsi's sex scene in Dedh Ishqiya despite us ordering him to blur it out.”

That one sentence contains two depressing indicators of the kind of censorship we’re likely to see in Kumar’s reign. If Kumar has watched Gangs Of Wasseypur, he should know that it is a violent film that presents many terrible things on screen, for that is the story the film is telling. Kumar's job is to determine whether the language used was justified considering the scope and setting of the film. He is not supposed to apply his subjective value judgement to it. For example, if I find the act of Eklavya cutting off his own thumb to be presented as guru-dakshina to Dronacharya ‘terrible’ because it's a casteist, unfair and violent episode, am I justified in asking that future film and TV adaptations Mahabharata lose that story?

The second is the usage of the words “…despite us ordering him to blur it out.” Contrary to what is suggested by Kumar using the word "order", CBFC is not the controlling authority of all Indian cinema. It's a body that's supposed to work with filmmakers, not issue diktats to them.

4) "No, Anurag Kashyap has to follow the law of the land."

This is in response to Kashyap’s famous stand against the ridiculous anti-smoking disclaimers that appear on screen during the film. A number of people from the industry have backed him on this, calling it a blight on aesthetics and ultimately futile. This is reminiscent of The Dirty Picture dispute I mentioned earlier, when industry folk were called for a meeting so that both parties could reach a mutually-acceptable solution.

Clearly, this isn’t Kumar’s style. Why attempt to have a dialogue when you can just cite one of the laws of this land – a land most of us know to have several unfair and outdated laws in most spheres of life – and shut out the likes of Kashyap?

5) “The problem is that the objectionable content is getting passed. This is making the filmmakers more audacious. If we can nip this trend in the bud, the results will show up sooner or later.”

And this from a man who is apparently bemoaning the short supply of serious cinema in India. Let's do an experiment with the above quote.

Step 1: Replace “objectionable content” with a minority community. Replace “is getting passed” with “are getting stronger/growing bigger/getting more power”.

Step 2: Do some googling and compare with statements made by Hitler, Stalin, VHP leaders, RSS chiefs and fatwa-issuing maulvis.

Notice any patterns?

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