The Indian Film Community Speaks Out On The Censor Board Controversy

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The recent Censor Board controversy which found many important chair holders to resign in protest have actually got many important personalities from Indian Film Industry to come out and voice their point of views. Business of Cinema spoke to eminent writers, directors, and actors to find their take on the ongoing feud, and they all came out with their own statements on whether it is appropriate for the Censor Board to suggest cuts, what actually qualifies its members to decide the fate of a film, whether the Censor Board should at all exist and why this government intervention is doing more worse than good.

Well known actor, write and producer, Viveck Vaswani says, “the Censor Board should be an autonomous body and should be seen to be so. What is happening between the Censor Board and cinema is unhealthy. Cinema does not create law and order problems. People create those. There is a dangerous situation here and it seems to be growing out of proportion. Political scenarios in India will not permit autonomy; that’s the final problem.” His thoughts are supported by producer, distributor and exhibitor, Sunil Bohra. “I think this is going to dent the image of Bollywood in general public without its fault. I think Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) should have the full right to decide, without any interference of government body in day to day matter, and rules should be followed equally for everyone and should not be altered for big or small issues. If the committee decides not to give certificate and refers it to tribunal then tribunal should not hurry in decision. It is the matter of country’s law and order.” Signs off Bohra.

The recent controversy was fuelled by the film, Messenger of God (MSG), release of which was stopped by the Censor Board owing to its “inappropriate content”. The film came back with a political support and earned the right to go ahead with its release by violating the Censor Board members. Quite naturally there brews a question that if political intervention is so potent then why this eye-wash of a committee which is completely powerless at the end of the day? And this is what lead Leela Samson to resign from her Chairmanship followed by many others in the committee.

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Actor Swara Bhaskar, whose emotions and opinions on the functioning of the Censor Board may have been no less personal than it is professional, was kind enough to explain herself in further detail. “I think the issue has got twisted and is being misinterpreted into a BJP v/s Congress issue. The issue is not whether MSG was cleared or not. It is that the Chairperson and the Advisory Board were bypassed and due procedure was not followed. Leela Samson’s resignation as CBFC Chairperson is a great loss to the film industry. She has been one of the more progressive, dynamic and visionary leaders of the Censor Board. She had been working to bridge the hostility between film makers and the board and change the functioning and image of the Censor Board from a corrupt regressive body to a transparent and efficient institution of certification. Her advisory board comprising of qualified academics and intellectuals from the field of film studies and critics has been one of the most enlightened and dedicated boards CBFC has ever had. Her departure from the role is a pity for the film industry. It is important that enlightened, dynamic, liberal and progressive people who understand the medium and value its power and reach, should be included in the CBFC committee so that film makers are able to practice their art freely and yet an enlightened and responsible regulation of content is maintained without moral policing or censorship. I thank Leela ji and her advisory board for having walked that fine path admirably!”

Writer-director Tanuja Chandra harps upon the same tune as Swara Bhaskar as she strongly feels that Censor Board needs to exist in order to enrich the film making process and encourage the makers from a very unbiased, untainted pedestal. “There has clearly been a crisis at the Censor Board! Not just the head, but several members have resigned, citing reasons of corruption of the committee and interference by the government, which frankly, aren’t hard to believe. If at all there has to be a Censor board certifying films, it must be an autonomous body, free of any sort of coercion from the government. It must be efficient and progressive and in this it must have the government’s support. The whole business of censorship is a very important one for the film industry because the decisions of a handful of people really do affect storytelling and the kinds of films that are made. Obviously, there will be decisions that producers and directors will disagree with but ideally these should be exceptions. By and large, the censor board must be encouraging of portrayals of the India we live in, not an India that is some sort of ideal and untrue fantasy. The abject fear of offending someone or the other should not be a sword hanging over the writer constantly. Movies will become relevant tools of shaping our society only if writers and directors are encouraged and allowed to let their imagination soar and their research speak unfettered. This is also what the government says it wants, isn’t it?”

The Bollywood professionals have got divided in their support or disappointments with respect to three separate bodies and stake-holders. First being the functions and responsibilities of the Censor Board; second, the scope of intervention of the government; and third, the rights and concerns of the film makers! When Swara and Tanuja chose to stand by the fair operations of the Censor Board and question the undue interference of external forces, there are many, who are questioning the limits and reasons behind the existence of the institution! Writer, director & actor Suparn Verma opines, “Firstly the entire CBFC rating system needs to be constitutionally overhauled. Nine people sitting in a room decide what a billion people can see…this very idea is ridiculous. A film maker should have the freedom to make the film he/she wants without being told about cuts visuals or otherwise. If the government is really that interested in the health of public, then ban cigarettes instead of making money via taxes! Why tell film makers to put supers? All governments have imposed their ideas via the Censor Board and this one is no different. I completely support Leela Samson and the Censor Board members who quit due to interference. Though I don’t believe MSG should be banned because end of the day no one has the right to decide what people should watch. If we stand for freedom of expression then we have to tolerate the good and the bad. I can defend my moral right to support a fantastic PK only if I support the right of a ridiculous MSG to release. But end of the day makers of MSG can’t go behind the certification body and use political influence to get their film passed just because the maker once helped the government win in Haryana!” The same resonates in the words of eminent media personality, Vinta Nanda. “I am against the institution of censorship because our boards have always been biased and irrelevant! They follow archaic laws and every decision is taken on the basis of who is benefitting! Its high time that the I&B ministry decides to demolish a useless institution and create a new one which makes sense to a country that is trying to take great strides in growth and inching towards a position among the developed economies of the modern world. Young blood needs to rebuild a dilapidated structure from scratch. When Honey Singh can be running prime time television shows after singing to lyrics that would make Frank Zappa cringe, then what is wrong with MSG?” Independent film director Madhureeta Anand too feels that censorship is redundant. “All over the world films are graded not censored and that’s how it should be here as well. If we have a Censor Board appointed by the government then it’s likely that there will be interference. And this is most undesirable for a vibrant creative environment. On a personal level my experiences with the Censor Board has been very good but I still don’t understand why films are subject to censorship! It’s a violation of our rights. Moreover it is quite redundant and has now just become a means to hassle and curb the interests of independent thinking people.” She says. Amit Khanna – producer, lyricist, actor and writer – puts it ahead with refined logic. “The whole censorship and certification needs an overhaul to be in sync with the times and this would mean moving towards self-censorship as much as possible. Provisions should be there to take care of anomalies. The committee set up two years ago had met the stake holders and submitted a report. I sincerely hope that the government takes that up and puts up a revised Film Certification Act!”

Most vocal and intense was director Sudhir Mishra’s reaction as he has had his own history of disagreements with the Censor Board processes and voiced the same contempt regarding the rights of the body in scissoring away portions from a film just because they feel it is inappropriate. “I fail to understand what qualifies a few members to sit and decide whether a film is safe enough to go out! I just don’t believe in the existence of a Censor Board. The only body that can stop or let go of a film can be the Supreme Court and no one else. My battle is not personal and I have nothing against the specific chair holders. My issue is with the entire process associated with the proposed bans on films!”

In sharp contrast to all the opinions above, actor Ranvir Shorey seemed to be much in peace when it came to the Censor Board controversy! “CBFC has been nothing but a political fawn for far too long now. Its autonomy and objectives need to be clearly defined. I also think the present government is doing a good job in keeping its role supportive instead of interfering”, he opined.

Just yesterday, film maker Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed as the new Censor Board Chairperson. The fresh committee that would stand by him includes Mihir Bhuta, Syed Abdul Bari, Ramesh Patange, George Baker, Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, Jeevitha, Vani Tripathi, Tikoo, SV Shekhar and Ashok Pandit, all of whom have got very strong right-wing associations! Reacting to the new team, national award winning editor and screenplay writer Apurva Asrani said, “In case of this film (MSG), politics won and the artist lost! I am saddened by the departure of an accomplished artist like Leela Samson from the Censor Board. The makers of MSG had every right to argue for their film, but they used political backing and didn’t follow the due procedure. At the same time I don’t support knee jerk reactions from the media fraternity questioning the very need for a Censor Board! A scenario without a Censor Board means that politicians will directly play censor, or worse, general public will. It’s like saying we want a democracy, but we don’t need a government. What we must push for is to strip the CBFC of absolute power, making it an agency that rates films according to age.”

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