What's good, clean, uncontroversial cinema? Maybe CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani's old films can tell us
by Kalpana Nair
When news broke that Pahlaj Nihalani had been appointed the new Chairperson of the Censor Board, one could almost hear a shudder course through the veins of the cultural elite in this country. How could this man, a self-confessed Modi acolyte who oversaw the creation of pulp like Shola Aur Shabnam, Aankhen and Andaz be the custodian of Indian cinema?
I have some news for those whose brows are placed firmly high: Mr Nihalani may not be the Censor Board chieftain we need in these complex times, but he is the one we deserve. To see why, let’s go back a bit and look at India’s relationship with art and taking offence.
In 1998, we banned the import of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses because it offended certain Muslim sensibilities. In 2000, we banned the shooting of Deepa Mehta’s Water, which showed the abuse of Indian widows in Varanasi. In 2002, we banned the documentary The Final Solution, which cast a critical eye on the riots in Gujarat (thankfully, the ban was lifted in 2004). In 2006, we drove out MF Hussain because he dared to imagine Hindu goddesses in a way we were not used to seeing them and quietly allowed fundamentalists to ensure Husain’s work would never be exhibited in the country. In 2009, we protested that Slumdog Millionaire was offensive because it faithfully showcased the vast poverty and poor living conditions of millions in Mumbai. In 2010, we removed Rohinton Mistry’s seminal Such A Long Journey from Mumbai University’s syllabus because Aditya Thackeray felt it “insulted” his grandfather. In 2013, we banned Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam because it offended Muslims. In 2014, members of the Bajrang Dal burnt and vandalised theatres showing PK because it showed the corrupt materialism of a Hindu godman. Finally, most recently in 2015, Tamil writer Perumal Murugan announced the death of himself as an author, after the RSS violently protested against his novel One Part Woman.
There are many more in this list. But given our chequered history of getting offended at the drop of a hat and then quickly translating that into either violence or a ban, it’s clear that the CBFC's real responsibility is not towards certifying good cinema. Its primary function is to function as a filter that pre-empts the outrage that a volatile section of the audience may feel. Hence Mr Nihalani’s recent statement that “producers should not make controversial films”.
Having produced many ‘single screen’ hits in his career, Mr Nihalani is in fact, ideally placed to be the best barometer of which way the Indian cultural wind is flying. Because you see, there is a pulse that a nation is supposed to have. Some people are oblivious to this pulse. If you went to watch Ugly last year or Finding Fanny, you don’t have a pulse. As in, you have a pulse but it’s your own pulse; not the national pulse, and consequently, you’re not qualified to comment on what will pulse with the masses.
Cinematically speaking, what the nation’s pulse needs right now, according to Mr Nihalani, is a pacifier to suck on. In case you’re not sure what that means or plan to submit films for certification during Mr Nihalani’s tenure, here’s a sample of the tasteful cinema that stands next to the CBFC chairperson’s name. Perhaps we can take a leaf out of his book?
1. Song: "Gudh" Film: Khushboo – The Fragrance of Love (2008)
Even though the film’s title refers to the olfactory sense, this song is about taste. More specifically, why the hero feels the heroine is like jaggery, which he wants to taste.
2. Song: "Main Maal Gaadi Tu Dhakka Laga" Film: Andaz (1994)
Taking Freudian symbolism to a new level, this song picturised on a wedding night has Juhi Chawla imploring Anil Kapoor to push her engines. So to speak.
3. Song: "Khada Hai" Film: Andaz (1994)
Another gem from the same film, this time post-marriage. The song features an erect Anil Kapoor proclaiming his availability to Juhi Chawla. Also contains multiple crotch zoom-ins for subliminal effect.
4. Song: "Hum Dono Kambal Main" Film: First Love Letter (1991)
“Hum dono kambal main, baahar madhumakkhi ka darr” goes the opening line of this song in which a hero and heroine and are trapped inside a blanket because bees have attacked them. Hero wants to use the opportunity and get jiggy with it, but heroine plays coy, because you know, attack of the killer bees!
5. Song: "Peechha Tera Chodunga Na" Film: Aandhi Toofan (1985)
Giving stiff competition to Police's "Every Breath You Take" as the ultimate stalker song, this one is basically one long tutorial in how to harass and molest a girl. An unwilling Meenakshi Seshadri is essentially assaulted by a relentless Mithun Chakraborty who declares he will never leave her alone.
One thing’s for sure: if his filmography is any indication, then the new CBFC chief certainly does know a thing or two about vulgarity, double meanings and bad taste.
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2015 16:26:09 IST