Babumoshai Bandookbaaz's CBFC woes: Will censorship soon be a thing of the past?
Shyam Benegal, Aamir Khan and Sudhir Mishra weigh in on the CBFC's power to censor, the limits placed on creative expression and the subjective nature of what can and cannot be a part of films.
The film fraternity has been chronically suffering from censorship controversies, with films being at the mercy of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and being subjected to its whimsical decisions for a long time now. In the wake of a fresh controversy, wherein the Board ordered a whopping 48 cuts, including the removal of certain 'bold' scenes and cuss words for Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s new film Babumoshai Bandookbaaz despite giving it an 'A' certificate, veteran director and screen writer, Shyam Benegal has turned proactive. The producer of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, who is a woman, had to listen to not just the cuts ordered but she was also subjected to shockingly misogynistic comments after she had submitted the film to the CBFC.
It seems that Benegal doesn’t want to leave the matter to the bureaucracy and politicians. He has been making a continual effort by calling and following up with the Secretary, Information and Broadcasting (Minsitry of I & B) to figure out the status of the report on the Cinematograph Act/ Rules that he and his committee members had submitted last year in April. “We had submitted the first part in April 2016 and the second part in October. I called the I & B ministry 10 days ago, and they said that they would let me know. I will call them again today,” Benegal told Firstpost.
A committee with members such as Kamal Haasan, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Piyush Pandey, and Goutam Ghose, among others, was set up under the chairmanship of Benegal to lay down guidelines and norms for film certification, to ensure that there is adequate space for artistic and creative expression. The report states that the CBFC should only be a film certification body, whose power should be restricted to categorising the suitability of the film for audience groups, on the basis of age and maturity. “I am totally against censorship. The CBFC can’t censor a film; it has to classify and grade on the basis of age and maturity, taking into consideration education. I have already given my report, they have taken my opinion and they can’t have another view now,” asserted Benegal.
When the matter concerning Babumoshai Bandoobaaz was raised a few days ago, Aamir Khan echoed Benegal's sentiment. When asked if censorship curbs a filmmaker's creativity, he said, "I don't know how relevant censorship is today. As far as my knowledge goes, the CBFC in any case isn't supposed to censor; it is supposed to certify and grade. That's how we should proceed. That is also Mr Shyam Benegal's recommendation, if I am not mistaken. So hopefully things will get better soon."
Another factor which could have triggered this movement is a report in a noted English daily few days ago, which contained speculations that Pahlaj Nihalani might be asked to quit as the chairman of the CBFC, as well as the names of potential successors, such as filmmakers Prakash Jha and Madhur Bhandarkar, and actor-director-writer, Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi. However, talking to Firstpost, Jha said, “I have no idea about this. I have only read it in the newspapers.”
Incidentally, his latest film Lipstick Under My Burkha locked horns with the CBFC for almost six months, as Nihalani refused to certify the film, terming it ‘lady oriented.’ The film finally saw the light of day on 21 July. Dwivedi, who is currently a member of the CBFC, showed total disinterest in the Board's matters. “These are unfounded reports, but I have had enough of the CBFC and I want to stay away from it,” said Dwivedi, whose tenure with the Board ends in early 2018. Bhandarkar first accepted that he was approached, but later dismissed these reports saying, “I have absolutely no idea. I’m an active filmmaker and I am busy with my films. Also, I’m not sure if I’d want to take the post, because it would be conflict of interest.”
The talks about Nihalani being replaced have been fueled further ever since actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani became the I&B minister. Technically, his three-year tenure ends in January 2018. And this writer was shunted from one department to another when she called the office of the Ministry of I & B in Delhi. After waiting for a response for four days, Irani’s assistant called to say that the Director General (DG) of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) should be addressing the media. “If the work is in progress and the formulation of of policy is on in Parliament, to comment about the issue will be breach of law,” said the assistant. However, DG, PIB expressed complete ignorance about this matter.
Agreeing with Bhandarkar, Benegal, too, felt that a filmmaker shouldn’t be heading the CBFC. “Ideally, a filmmaker can’t hold that post, as it’s not correct to judge the work of other filmmakers. And as it is, films have to certified, and the guidelines are based on the constitutional provisions because our views are subjective, we cannot cloud our judgement. After watching a film, the first thought that comes to our mind is whether we liked the film or not. Films cannot be judged even on the basis of aesthetic principles. The CBFC’s job is to see that a film should not transgress the guidelines and it should not go against the spirit of the Constitution. There can’t be a casual approach to this, as the film medium is quite influential — it educates, informs and entertains. It’s not an easy job,” said Benegal.
Sudhir Mishra, who is supporting Kushan Nandy, the director of Babumoshai... in his battle against the CBFC, feels that the person heading CBFC should be knowledgeable about the subject. “It can be a Supreme Court judge, because more than judging a piece of art, it’s an act of Parliament. It is about passing an opinion over the matter of State, it is about the freedom of expression leading to law and order situations (sic),” said Mishra, further adding, “The film industry needs an assurance. Filmmakers are already stressed out by the process of getting their films funded, then making the film for the world to see, and then they have to face this arbitrariness, tyranny and lord/master versus praja system. But I am glad that there is solidarity among the directors with the Directors’ Association stepping in support of young directors like Kushan and Alankrita [Shrivastava] (sic).”
Meanwhile, the makers of Nawazuddin's film have appealed against the CBFC’s decision. "We have appealed to the FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) and the orders are reserved. We are hopeful and positive that they will see the film the way we have made it," said Nandy, who believes that once the guidelines of Benegals’ committee report are studied and implemented and the films are certified rather than censored, then who heads the CBFC is not of much consequence.
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