Free At Last?
The film industry has finally taken a sigh of relief after the resignation of Pahlaj Nihalani, whose unreasonable approach to vetting films has always troubled the filmmakers. With the appointment of Prasoon Joshi and Vidya Balan, everyone in the industry is hoping for more creative freedom.
Filmmakers welcomed a new and improved CBFC but they may be jumping the gun. The winds of change do not always spell bad news for Bollywood and it is with optimism that the industry has welcomed the appointment of two prominent film personalities to the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC).
The appointments of lyricist and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi as the new Chairperson of the CBFC, and actor Vidya Balan as a board member – were made on August 12 after Pahlaj Nihalani resigned from his post at the helm of the board.
After taking over the reins in 2015, Nihalani had been at the centre of many controversies. He started with snipping scenes from Varun Dhawan's Badlapur, after which matters only escalated, with films like NH10, Aligarh, Katti Batti, Angry Indian Goddesses, Spectre and many more. More recently, films like Udta Punjab and Lipstcik Under My Burkha bore the brunt of the 'sanskari' guidelines applied by the CBFC chief, raising a storm in the trade.
Still smarting from what was widely perceived as Nihalani's uncompromising and unreasonable approach to vetting films, producers and directors are heaving a sigh of relief at the change. But there's also a sense of caution, as many point out that the board is constrained by legislation that was promulgated more than 60 years ago – the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
here is a conversation to a cross section of people from the industry about whether they believe that the appointment of Joshi and Balan will mean more creative freedom for filmmakers, marking a long-overdue shift from 'censorship' to 'certification', or whether the outdated legislation that governs the CBFC will continue to shackle the board, even with progressive minds at the helm.
Salim Khan – Writer
I have already spoken about this on social media. It's a great choice and a very sensible choice. Prasoon Joshi is an educated person, a poet. He knows the medium. What else could one want?
Madhur Bhandarkar – Director
It is a very good decision by the Information And Broadcasting Ministry. Prasoon Joshi comes from an advertising background and he has liberal views and progressive points of view. We are all very happy and I am happy that the Information And Broadcasting Ministry has appointed him. It is absolutely a great move for all. As for Vidya Balan… she and everybody else who has been appointed by the ministry… It is a very apt and superb move.
Mukesh Bhatt – Filmmaker
I am happy that a writer is occupying that chair; after all, who else if not a writer is supposed to understand that there is something called freedom of writing? There should be no censorship; there should be certification. As an adult, I should be allowed to see what I want to see. There should be nobody who tells me what to see and what not to see. I don't know how much Prasoon Joshi will work towards that. Let's hope he brings some sense into our lives and doesn't go back to the same old thing that his predecessors have done.
I am not a pessimist but I also don't want to be too optimistic because who kehte hai na, 'doodh ka jala hua chaas bhi phoonk ke peeta hai'. It's, like, once bitten, twice shy. I am just a little cautious as this is finally the beginning of a new era, where we are coming to terms with the fact that we are living in a free country, in a free world. And no writer is handicapped and bound even before he picks up the pen. Their minds should not be burdened by artificial censorship. His (Prasoon Joshi) thought process should be free, not controlled by government agencies. I just want to underline the words 'free thought'.
Anees Bazmee – Director
I think everybody is very happy. Vidya is a successful actor and Prasoon Joshi is a writer, a poet and a very sensible man. I think they will assess the restrictions properly before arriving at a decision. All the censorship problems that our films have faced till date will ease and freedom of expression will no longer be curbed. Jo dil main hai banana chahiye. A filmmaker shouldn't have any apprehensions while making a film and the audience should have the right to see what they want to see. Agar log galat cheez banayenge toh log nahi dekhenge. The film industry is very positive. This is a welcome change and we are hoping for the best.
Vikram Bhatt – Writer-Director
I believe that Prasoon Joshi is a veteran, successful and sharp person. The industry has plenty of respect for him. Vidya is an intelligent person. As far as expectations are concerned, it's between the devil and the deep sea. If we have a lenient censor board, we have activists and groups rising up with morchas and people demanding that a certain film be banned.
Unless and until we embolden the board, amend the legislation and change it from a 'censor board' to a 'certification board', it's not going to work. You can't send Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar into the field with one hand tied behind their backs; that's not going to work. Even the best man can't do anything without freedom. The legislation needs to be changed. So, this is a progressive change but the change has to be supported by law.
Anjum Rajabali – Writer
It is certainly a welcome relief that Nihalani has been removed as Chairperson of the CBFC. Now, if only we can move away from the need to censor films and begin to certify them, it will liberate the film industry from the anxiety of having to constantly struggle for its creative freedom.
For a culture that is constantly opening up its entertainment choices, it is essential that its certifying body continuosly upgrade its trust in the maturity of the viewing public and modernise its interpretation of the film certification guidelines. According to me, whenever the CBFC is in doubt about which certificate to assign, it should always opt for the more liberal option.
Sajid Khan – Director
I don't really have anything to say except what I said on my
Twitter account when Prasoon Joshi was announced as the new Chairperson of the CBFC. (He wrote, "Finally film industry 'Prasoon' huyi.")
Kushan Nandy – Director
I think it is a wonderful call because both of them are very good choices, sensibility-wise. It is a good change compared to what we had in the past. Having said that – and I keep saying this – more than changing the members, we need to change the guidelines of the CBFC. Those 70-80-year-old guidelines don't work today. Everything has changed in the last 80 years, which is three to four generations. That needs to change. The report (Shyam Benegal's report and recommendations) needs to be read and implemented. Still, this is a very good first step.
Ananth Mahadevan – Director
Prasoon is a dignified and well-known media person and everyone has tremendous respect for him. He is an able person to take over a post that is in itself questionable. We have had differences with the board since time immemorial. It's addressed in a wrong way. Shyam Benegal was asked to send a report and then it wasn't looked into. Everything uncensored is available on the Internet today. Simply certify them and get it over with. The censor board should be made autonomous and be not tied down by rules from 1956.
Rajat Arora – Writer
It is a very welcome change. It is wonderful. The outlook was very different before and that will change now. They (Prasoon Joshi and Vidya Balan) understand cinema worldwide and their perspective will be very good for the film industry. They connect with you, what you want and what you need to see. It is a very strong and a positive move. Vidya being an actor herself… and all the other members that are there on board… there is an actor, a filmmaker, a writer, so everybody is included from all fields. They respect the voice of the audience and filmmakers, and that is a very good sign.
Sanjay Chauhan – Writer
I don't like the word 'censor board'' because it is not right to censor creativity. That said, despite the change at the top, nothing much will change because we need to change the legilsation; we need to address the core issue and consider Shyam Benegal's committee's recommendations. We know Prasoon and Vidya's intentions are progressive but it's too early to comment. First, let's see how the new films are censored. If films like Udta Punjab and Lipstick Under My Burkha run smoothly, or 50 Shades of Grey releases in India, then we can expect change. But if Prasoon is forced to follow the existing rules, I don't think that can bring about a change. In India, cinema is easily targeted. If my film is censored by the highest body, the censor board, why are there other groups coming out in protest
against the film?