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The club of ‘devotees’ is on board

The club of ‘devotees’ is on board
When Leela Samson, erstwhile chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification, resigned last week, 12 members of the board, including myself, collectively sent in our papers. Information & Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley called us ‘rebels without a cause’. We were charged with being appointees of the erstwhile UPA-led government, who had ‘decided to politicise routine issues’.

It is true that all of us, including the chairperson, were appointed by the Congress-led UPA government. The fact, however, is that barring myself, none of the other ‘rebel’ board members or the chairperson possesses any direct link to the Congress party or UPA. Nikhil Alva, son of senior Congress leader Margaret Alva, has an indirect link only. Nikhil is a renowned film maker in his own right and yes, I have been a national office bearer of the Congress party for the last eight years. However, I served as a journalist with the Times of India Group for 27 long years in different positions before joining politics.

The present government must credit its counterparts in the erstwhile UPA dispensation for appointing well known luminaries from the fields of cinema, theatre, art, civil society and media, as members in the previous board. I was a member of CBFC for around five years. Can anybody please give me an instance when I did something because of my political ideology? Those who accuse the ‘rebels’ for politicising the issue must now answer the ‘RSSisation’ of CBFC, after the appointment of a new chairman and nine members. The body has been converted into an extended arm of the Sangh Parivar.

The newly appointed chairman of CBFC and its board members are proud to call themselves ‘devotees’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Producer-director Pahlaj Nihalani is Leela Samson’s replacement. In his long career in the world of cinema, Nihalani has produced films such as Aaag Ka Gola, Aag Hi Aag, Shola Aur Shabnam, Gunahon Ka Faisla, Paap Ki Dunia, First Love Letter, Dil Tera Deewana, etc. The last film he made was six years ago and that was Khushaboo--the fragrance of love. After the movie, his biggest contribution is a six-minute film called ‘Har Ghar Modi’, which he produced for Narendra Modi’s election campaign during the 2014 general elections. Did this short film secure his position as CBFC chairman? After his appointment Nihalani announced that Narendra Modi has been his ‘action hero’ for years.

The list of new board members has an actor, who finished third as a BJP candidate in the general elections from Howrah in West Bengal. A Gujarati script writer, who has been included in the board, is a well known slogan writer for BJP. The slogan writer and his friends, including two influential BJP leaders, are in the process of acquiring more than 200 acres of land in South Gujarat to set up a film city. CBFC has been also enriched with the inclusion of a face famous. He has been producing films and serials for years and maintained a consistent ideological position. The liberal use of saffron and Har-Har Mahadev slogans has been his calling card. Besides, his association with the BJP goes back to 1991, when a party stalwart visited a shooting location set up by this serial maker, before the commencement of the infamous Rath Yatra.

Two seats in the Censor Board have been given to a well known ideologue of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and a small time actress turned BJP office bearer. The ideologue was a full time RSS Vistarak in Mumbai and has written books on Guru Golwalkar and Sangh. He also runs a social forum closely associated with RSS. Another film maker, who does not hide his love for Modi and BJP, has also been awarded with an inclusion.

The CBFC wall also has a photo of a South Indian actress turned film maker, who is a BJP member. She was convicted by a Hyderabad court in November last year and sentenced to two years imprisonment. A Tamil playwright and actor, who had joined BJP, is also a CBFC member. The playwright was earlier with the AIADMK.

Clearly, the Information and Broadcasting Minister must compare the profile of the ‘rebels’ that resigned and the ‘devotees’ he has enlisted. The ‘rebels’, including myself, had attempted to impart a sense of transparency in the workings of the CBFC during our tenure. We believe that our body had made a good start on the need to sharpen our certification process. We also initiated discussions with Regional Advisory Panel members to deepen and clarify their understanding of their own role and that of other board members and officials of the CBFC. We wanted to initiate debates and discussions with them on the significance of cinema, its signifying procedures and narrative structures, and the communicative power of this extremely powerful medium that requires careful handling. We wanted to complete the computerisation process for certification to eliminate any scope for corruption. However, we faced several difficulties and obstacles to realise these goals. It was impossible to acquire the requisite funds and approvals for implementing all these goals. So much so that no board meeting could take place for the past one year to discuss policies, programs and plans. We were also pursuing the government to bring the new Cinematograph Bill in Parliament, which would give more teeth to the CBFC. A final draft of the bill is lying with the ministry.

 This was the ‘cause’ that led the workings of the previous board. Like the 1955 film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, we also perhaps came to a new town finding friends and enemies and tried to do our best. Let the ‘Club of Devotees’ now participate in this relay race. I, with all my other rebellious friends, wish our film industry all the very best. The industry is destined to witness the ‘purpose’ with which the CBFC will now function.

Author is editor and CEO of News Views India
Pankaj Sharma

Pankaj Sharma

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