Padmaavat, Nude: How Prasoon Joshi's reign as CBFC chief has emerged far cleaner than its sanskari predecessor
Prasoon Joshi may have taken his time certifying Padmaavat but his tenure as the CBFC chief so far has been far more impressive than that of Pahlaj Nihalani
Ever since lyricist and adman Prasoon Joshi took over from filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani as the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the body's rulings have adhered less to sanskar and more to the statutory act that governs it, and the Constitution.
Days after he was appointed as the CBFC chief, Joshi clarified that his role was not to micromanage the daily proceedings but only to supervise them. To his credit, his reign as the CBFC head has steered clear of any blemish yet.
Unlike in Nihalani's reign, where every big film was subjected to censoring, Joshi has ensured the CBFC functioned in capacity of a certification body. That is why informal intimation of suggested changes in the film was eliminated. The CBFC began certifying films directly and in case a film gets an A certificate, thereby restricting its audience, the Board would enlist the changes required to be incorporated in order to gain U/A certification. The onus then lies on the filmmaker whether they agree with the current certification or is willing to make the alterations to get a more universal certificate.
This call, however, had demerits of its own as it demanded a longer gestation period between the application for certification and release of the film. The change in approach came to the fore when Sanjay Leela Bhansali's period drama Padmaavat was denied certification owing to technical issues in the application.
Since the film was also at the centre of a sensitive discourse, Joshi insisted on more time at the CBFC's disposal for them to take a 'balanced decision.' In order to assess its historical accuracy, the CBFC appointed an advisory panel comprising four historians from Rajasthan (the state where majority of the contention laid). Since the makers claimed that theirs was not a historically accurate work and only based on a piece of fiction, the CBFC suggested the film's name be changed to Padmaavat, the name of the poem it is based on, from Padmavati, the revered yet historically disputed queen of the Rajputs.
Thus, though the delay caused by the CBFC pushed the film almost a month and a half ahead of its original release date on 1 December, 2017, it is now slated to release with a U/A certificate and minor cuts.
The imposition of the 68-day rule (a filmmaker must submit his product for certification 68 days before the planned release date) led to a domino effect since films as huge as Justice League had to bear the brunt of it. While the English version released on the scheduled date of 17 November, 2017, its dubbed regional versions in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu got delayed because of the above mentioned 68-day rule.
This led the industry insiders to believe that Ali Abbas Zafar's spy thriller Tiger Zinda Hai will also get pushed owing to the same rule. But the CBFC efficiently cleared their backlog, and with smooth cooperation from Yash Raj Films, cleared the film for release with a U/A certificate and three minor cuts on its scheduled date of 22 December. Tiger Zinda Hai went on to earn over Rs 300 crore at the domestic box office, thus ending an otherwise commercially disappointing year for Bollywood with a bang.
Big films like Imtiaz Ali's romantic comedy Jab Harry Met Sejal and Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab had battled with Nihalani-led CBFC days before their respective releases. Several filmmakers like Tigmanshu Dhulia even alleged that censorship controversies have become a part of the promotional strategies. Joshi, however, distanced himself from such controversies and an unintended marketing nudge to films that wanted to capitalise on the CBFC's alleged 'intolerance'.
He even addressed the allegations of the CBFC causing delay of the Telugu version of Atlee's controversial Tamil film Mersal. "It should be more about the content that drives a film. Why should the CBFC be used for a controversy? It is an organisation which consists of people like any other organisation, so why should we be unfair to people who work in CBFC and completely unappreciate the efforts?" said the new CBFC chief to IANS.
In fact, the Joshi-led CBFC cleared several big films which would have come under the sanskari scanner of the Nihalani-led CBFC. For example, Milan Luthria's period heist drama Baadshaho had Ileana D'Cruz bear her back in the closing moments of the song 'Mere Rashke Kamar'. However, instead of clamping down on that scene, the CBFC not only cleared the film (their first after Joshi's appointment) but also lauded the lead actor Ajay Devgn for always bringing clean films to theatres.
Similarly, Anurag Kashyap was pleasantly surprised to see his sports drama Mukkabaaz get green-lit with a U/A certificate though he has made a career out of censorship controversies. He even took to Twitter and thanked both Joshi and the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani for giving him space to exercise his creative instincts. Also, from Hollywood, Stephen King's horror film IT got an A certificate with no cuts.
On the flipside, the CBFC did face flak for its treatment of smaller films. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Malayalam film S Durga was not allowed to be screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) even after Kerala High Court ordered the authorities to hold its screening, thanks to a 'technical' inconsistency in the film's title, as pointed out by the Kerala office of the CBFC.
But the CBFC more than made for it when they cleared Ravi Jadhav's Marathi film Nude with an 'A' certificate and no cuts. The film was dropped from IFFI on the grounds that it had not been certified. Thus, the CBFC set up a special jury, led by Vidya Balan, to view the film and certify it.
However, the CBFC reportedly stalled the release of a film titled X Zone, citing "graphic nudity" as the reason. Though Nude also consisted of a lot of nudity, it can be argued that the same was imperative to shape the central narrative which revolves around nude models in Mumbai.
In an interview to News18, Joshi said, "If the intent (of the filmmaker) is portrayal, I'm fine with it. If the intent is to manipulate, to exploit, and create cheap publicity out of it, I have a problem with it." The murky territory of intent might be the reason for differential treatment towards Nude and X Zone. Similarly, a Punjabi film Toofan Singh was not cleared on ground of "excessive violence."
Another prominent taint that was characteristic of Nihalni's reign was allegations of saffronisation, owing to his ideological proximity to the ruling party. While contentious films like Modi Ka Gaon, Ka Bodyscapes and Mohalla Assi get cleared in Joshi's tenure, there were tints of saffron here and there.
For example, Joshi did clear The Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Amartya Sen, reducing the number of Nihalani-ordered cuts to just one. But the one cut was muting of Gujarat in the context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's alleged involvement in the 2002 riots.
Similarly, a reference to a cow (gau rakshak alert!) was muted in Salim Kumar's Malayalam film. Since the reference was not imperative to the central narrative, the filmmaker did not appeal against the decision. However, at the same time, the CBFC censored a reference to Indira Gandhi in a film titled Umeed and also reportedly stalled the release of 21 Months Of Hell, based on the Emergency. In their defense, they cited "extreme violence" as the reason behind holding the release of the latter.
Overall, while there may be point-sized saffron hints, Joshi's reign boasts of a far cleaner job than that of Nihalani. While they may take their fare share of time to arrive to conclusions, the logical and constitutional significance of those decisions holds water.
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