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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Aaj Ka Censor Raj: How Pahlaj Nihalani Is Terrorising Bollywood's Filmmakers?

By RAMAN KAPOOR | INNLIVE

There were a few days to go for the release ofNH10 - Anushka Sharma's debut film as a producer. In the corridors of the preview theatre where the movie was being screened for members of the Central Board of Film Certification, a tense Anurag Kashyap (co-producer) was pacing up and down. Along with him were waiting Anushka, NH10's director Navdeep Singh and the other co-producers - Madhu Mantena, Vikas Bahl, Vikramaditya Motwane and Karnesh Sharma.

The door to the preview theatre opened and out strode Pahlaj Nihalani, the CBFC's chairperson. The NH10 team rushed to him, he muttered something, their faces fell, and then he walked out. As Nihalani got into his car, Mantena held his car door open.

Anurag refused to comment on what had happened - his Rs 120-crore magnum opus,Bombay Velvet, was due to release within a couple of months. It wouldn't do to get on the wrong side of Nihalani.

There's just one word to describe how theNH10 team looked at that time: scared. Their film's release had been delayed by a week; the revised guidelines of the CBFC were the reason. Finally, the film was cleared - but with an 'A' certificate and nine cuts that Anushka and Navdeep were clearly unhappy about. The others, including Anurag, handled it more diplomatically.

Anurag may not have known at the time that just over a year later, he would be locking horns with Nihalani once again, this time, for his film Udta Punjab, about widespread drug addiction in the state of Punjab. After a well-publicised tussle between Phanton Films (co-producers of Udta Punjab, along with Balaji Motion Pictures) and the CBFC, which has asked for numerous cuts in the film, Anurag approached the Bombay High Court, which is due to pronounce its verdict on 13 June, Monday.

Their run-ns with the "Censor Board" as the CFC is commonly called may not have taken on the vociferous tones that the Udta Punjabfight has, but most filmmakers have their own tales to tell of clashes with Nihalani.

Bobby Khan, the director of Sunny Leone starrer Ek Paheli Leela, tells us that he was worried indeed when his film went in for certification, right after the NH10 issue.

"I was very scared when I sent my film to the censors for the simple reason that if this could happen to Anushka's film then what about my film, which had Sunny Leone in the lead. I was tense - what if the film got stuck, or pushed ahead?

Then the whole budget, promotions, strategically planned release date, getting theatres...everything would go for a toss. Just having Sunny in the film would have got it an 'A' certificate, even I had shown her performing a puja. My film did get the 'A' rating, but with no cuts. It's just the mindset. If my film had Kangana Ranaut or any other actress, I would have probably got a U/A," Bobby says.

National Award winning director Hansal Mehta still regrets accepting the cuts that he did for his film Aligarh, based on the story of Prof Ramchandra Siras. The trailer of his film - lauded everywhere for its deft handling of a sensitive theme - was given an 'A' certificate. The CBFC also asked Mehta to delete a few scenes and what Mehta is particularly upset by, is that he had to spend time that could have been invested in publicising his film in resolving issue with the censors instead.

"We had only one month before the film's release. It is an important film which talks about loneliness, relationships and a homophobic society. The censor behaved exactly like those people who suspended Professor Siras. They (the board) are behaving like a homophobic society. You are breaking the back of a smaller film and making us run from pillar to post," Mehta had said.

He also admitted to feeling angry with himself for buckling under the CBFC's pressure - although he says that this experience will not stop him from making the kinds of films he wants to.

"I am definitely not a careful director. If I have to say something, I will say it through my film. But yes, I have to be sensitive towards who is funding and financing my film. I have to do the balancing act. But then, yes, I was forced to sacrifice for Aligarh," said Mehta, calling for an end to the CBFC's current avatar and asking that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Arun Jaitley step in and bring about a long overdue revamp.

"Fortunately the Bombay High Court has been scathing in its criticism of CBFC in the battle for the certification of Udta Punjab," Mehta adds.

Another producer, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, said that the release of his film (an adult comedy) was delayed by almost a year due to censorship issues. He suffered huge financial losses in the interim.

"It affected us very badly. But I will continue to make films that I want to make," he said, adding that he wished to stay anonymous because Nihalani "has the unmitigated gall of coming after everybody who speaks against him".
"The whole process is so rough. He is dictatorial, power-hungry, politically skewed. The government is shooting from his (Nihalani's) shoulder," the producer added.

Inconsistencies and discrepancies prevail even in the application of censorship rules - sometimes the chairman is said to break his own rules and allow certain films to include cuss words, and giving them a U/A certificate.

"One recent big release had cuss words like 'kameena', 'haraami', 'haraam khor', then another film showed women in poor light. There was violence against women and impolite references towards them in yet another film...all of this Nihalani had himself 'banned', but instead he's deleting words like 'saala' from other films. He keeps contradicting himself," a source from the CBFC told us. "Small time producers are being harassed. The release of their films is getting postponed by 1-2 months and they can't take any action or go to court due to lack of resources. It's possible for the producers of Udta Punjab to fight and take the battle to court, but it's impossible for many others."

NH10's director Navdeep Singh told us the censor issues NH10 ran into were deeply upsetting "because the language used in the film reflected reality and chopping dialogues affected it". "If you are giving an adult certificate then what's the problem?," Singh says. "Let an adult rated film have adult content, why demand so many cuts and mutilate the film? It is unfair. We had Omkara way back in 2006...let us progress to another stage. After all, art reflects life and the film's language should reflect real life. The State can't be nagging us - not everybody can make romantic films, or comedies. It is like punishment by process. Not everybody can fight in court, we need money and time for all that."
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