Out, out damned chief: CBFC's rage against Pahlaj Nihalani may change nothing for Indian cinema

FP Staff

Jun 01, 2015 14:59:56 IST

It's safe to say no one envies Pahlaj Nihalani. And we are not even talking about his filmography. Nihalani assumed charge as the chief of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), succeeding Leela Samson who quit over the controversy that surrounded the release of the film MSG: Messenger of God. With Samson's exit, other members too left the building and a new board was instituted. There were concerns that in this avatar, the CBFC appeared to be overrun with BJP sympathizers, which you'd think would mean a united front. However, Nihalani's term is making Samson's tumultuous reign as CBFC chief seem like a Care Bears' convention.

It hasn't even been six months since the new CBFC was installed, but Nihalani's colleagues seem to have had enough of him. A number ofthem have told The Economic Times that they will vote against  him in a trust motion that is slated to take place on 9th June.

One member, requesting anonymity, said, "We are preparing for a good fight. All of us want the menace to end. Nihalani cannot take the board members and the film industry for granted."

According to The Economic Times, out of the 12 members in the board, 10 may vote against Nihalani in the trust vote, which will be presided over by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, minister of state for information and broadcasting.

Out, out damned chief: CBFCs rage against Pahlaj Nihalani may change nothing for Indian cinema

Pahlaj Nihalani. IBN Live.

What may have accounted for the board members turning their backs on their chief? Was it Nihalani's first 'achievement' - brandishing a list of words he wanted banned from films? Or his threat to control 'nudity' on television and in the internet?

All those who were hoping that there may be closet supporters of the liberal agenda in the CBFC, perish the thought. It turns out that the members are disgruntled because Nihalani, like an enthusiastic class prefect, has been hogging all the work. The only reason this is unacceptable to his colleagues is that it means Nihalani hogs all the power too.  Members claim Nihalani insists on watching every film - small or big, including documentaries - so that the certification on screen would bear his name.

The murmurs of discontent against Nihalani surfaced as early as March, roughly two months after the new board had taken charge. Board member Ashoke Pandit accused Nihalani of being an 'anarchist', alleging that the chief had been "illegally withholding" the censor certificate for Mukesh Bhatt's Mr X. Another member Mihir Buta alleged that Nihalani has made the rest of the board "redundant". Senior board member Nandini Sardesai wrote to I&B minister Arun Jaitley alleging that Nihalani has been behaving like a "megalomaniac". Just a few weeks ago, the entire film fraternity met Rathore. Rumour has it that they allegedly requested that Nihalani be sacked.

However, there's no reason to suppose that the Indian film industry will actually feel any reprieve if Nihalani's wings are clipped. An earlier article in The Indian Express, in which all the members of the censor board were interviewed, showed that most members hold fairly conservative views about cinema, much like Nihalani's. For example, member George Baker opined that films with cuss words should be only released with an 'Adult' certificate. Bhuta had said that a film like Haider, which is critical of the Indian Army's activities in Kashmir, shouldn't be made. Member Jeevitha's comments made it clear that she couldn't differentiate between 'adult films' and films for 'adult audiences'. Asoke Pandit, who has been the most vocal in his opposition to Nihalani, was the one who suggested Karan Johar go and show "sex positions" to his mother after Johar took part in the controversial AIB Roast.

At the moment, with Nihalani determined to turn the certification process as a one-man show, it's easy for the CBFC to point fingers at the chief. One member told The Economic Times, "We have become the laughing stock everywhere," laying the responsibility for this at Nihalani's doorstep.

This may be true, but given the opinions put forward by the other board members, it doesn't seem likely that ousting Nihalani will improve the CBFC's reputation. Still, we can hope that the response to Nihalani's conservatism will make the other members wary of following in his footsteps. Till then, we remain a country where body parts like "breast", "penis" and "vagina" are equated with abusive language and beeped out because they're deemed too obscene for television. How far can a Nihalani-less board take us?

Updated Date: Jun 01, 2015 14:59:04 IST