Censor troubles once again
In an unfortunate development, the examining board of the Central Board of Film Certification has refused to certify Prakash Jha's upcoming film, "Lipstick Under My Burkha", citing rather strange reasons. "The story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society," read the letter from CBFC. Set in a small town, the film is about four women in search of freedom. The makers of this movie are now awaiting a formal letter from the Revising Committee. Once they receive this letter, they will approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.
Earlier this month, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer "Haraamkhor" received similar treatment, while Oscar-nominated Hollywood drama, "Moonlight", was subject to significant cuts. Both movies deal with stories not often told in mainstream cinema. While Haraamkhor details a teacher's illicit relationship with a student, Moonlight is a moving drama about a young black man grappling with his sexuality. "Films should challenge the status quo, which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it," Jha told a Mumbai-based daily. His contention that the CBFC's step discourages filmmakers from telling uncomfortable stories and curbs freedom of expression is on point. When did we as a country grow so sensitive about the depiction of societal issues in films? What will the CBFC censor next? Since January 2015, when Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed the director, the CBFC has consistently been making the headlines for censoring works of cinema that exist beyond the grasp of their ideological moorings. Last year, the CBFC ordered 13 cuts in Abhishek Chaubey's "Udta Punjab", but it eventually had to suffer embarrassment when the Bombay High Court passed the film with just one cut. Ever since Nihalani took over, the CBFC has been hell- bent on undermining the freedom of expression.
Under the guise of protecting the sentiments of individuals, caste and religious groups, institutions, and the nation itself, the CBFC has sought to tighten its control over what filmmakers can or cannot produce. In response to his gaffes, the Centre appointed a committee chaired by noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal to recommend significant changes in the Cinematograph Act. These recommendations are now collecting dust, despite Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley contention last year that film certification in the country is set to go through "some very radical changes".
The previous UPA government had appointed the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee in 2013 to suggest ways in which it could revamp the CBFC. Among other things, the committee had recommended that the CBFC's role should be limited to certification rather than censorship. In other words, it suggested that instead of limiting what characters could say or do on screen, the CBFC needed to respect the intelligence of the cinema-going audience. To placate the film industry after the CBFC's chairman's antics, the Centre had appointed the Shyam Benegal-led committee last year. Needless to say, the Benegal committee's recommendations were in line with its predecessor. Nonetheless, the government has done little to scale down the CBFC's powers over filmmakers. The Cinematograph Act, its guidelines, and the censor board are fundamentally at odds with our constitutional vision.