We cannot take our creative freedom lying down anymore, we need to act now as filmmakers
In my long tenure as IMPPA and FFI President, I have witnessed several filmmakers battling it out with the censor board, to save their creative works in the desperate hope that the very foundation on which their films are based, is not wiped out in the process of censoring it. There have been changing Governments and Ministries who appointed various people to head the constitutional body which was then called the Censor Board, but they all functioned in the same manner with a similar mindset, because they were expected to curb the freedom of the filmmaker. The filmmaker has always over the years been sidelined and considered as a potential threat to the system by governments, for his spirit and his courage to project reality. Films are no doubt a medium of entertainment but they are also a true mirror of the society that we live in and the filmmakers who go out and project the reality often find themselves at the receiving end.
The ongoing battle of Anurag Kashyap and his team with the CBFC, is definitely not his battle alone. It is the battle of the whole industry and filmmakers, whose voice is being silenced by one person, who considers himself the messiah of moral policing. Knowing well that Nihalani has been giving producers sleepless nights, I wouldn’t like to blame him entirely for the current state of affairs. If I may recall rightly, there was a time when as a producer and the president of a producers’ organization called AMPTPP (Association of Motion Pictures and Television Program Producers), Pahlaj Nihalani himself had his own reservations about the way the Censor Board functioned. Like me, he would also come out in support of producers, whose films were stuck up in censorship woes. But Nihalani is now acting in the garb of the head of a Government appointed constitutional body that requires him to prove his loyalty from time to time to the party which appointed him for the position. His responsibility also includes safeguarding the image of the party through his work. His list of cuss words was probably a ploy to impress the ruling party and prove that he was indeed a sanskari chairperson, irrespective of the fact that the films he made once upon a time hardly confirmed to his own diktats. While Nihalani has been accused of misusing his position and behaving in a dictatorial fashion, we need to realize that Nihalani has the weapon of the CBFC guidelines, which he is successfully using to his advantage to justify his decisions. In fact, I think by denying the filmmaker the right to express himself in Udta Punjab, Nihalani has drawn unwarranted attention to the whole film and its subject, which has not only put the ruling party in a tight spot but also encouraged the opposition parties to go all out for the cause of the film. Having said that, I am definitely happy that we have all woken up to the truth that we cannot allow this to go on forever and we as filmmakers need not succumb to any pressure. While Pahlaj Nihalani and his age-old ideas certainly cannot curb the freedom of filmmakers, we also need to think about the larger problems that producers are likely to face. Today it is Pahlaj Nihalani, tomorrow it could be some other CBFC chairperson but they would all be expected to function under the same obsolete guidelines that have been in existence since 1952. Now that we have begun
the movement for freedom of expression, we also need to prevail upon the Government to make big changes in the guidelines. I am glad that the Shyam Benegal committee, appointed by the I & B Ministry to revamp the process of censorship, has been looking at the CBFC being restricted to the process of certification rather than censoring films but there are some sections in the Cinematograph Act that need to be clearly re-looked at if we want to avert examples like that of Udta Punjab again and again. As filmmakers, we need to have the freedom to have our own point of view as long as we are responsible in what we intend to convey
through our films.