Did the 57 cuts Nihalani sought in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar, a film set against the backdrop of Emergency, hasten his exit?
Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; August 12, 2017)

Was Pahlaj Nihalani’s brash and overbearing presence on Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) the reason for his sacking? Or was that cringe-inducing video he produced praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi some time back the reason? Or could the 57 cuts he sought in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar have led to his exit?

While nobody in the film industry on Friday was clear on what caused the government to get rid of Nihalani, there was unanimity that the Sanskari CBFC chief had it coming.

At 8:10 pm on Friday, the Press Information Bureau released a press note stating that Padma Shri and twotime National Award-winning lyricist, Prasoon Joshi, had been appointed CBFC chairman for a period of three years or until further orders.

Besides Prasoon, who landed in the city a little before 9 pm, 12 other members were inducted into the reconstituted Board. They are Gautami Tadimalla, Narendra Kohli, Naresh Chandra Lal, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih, Vivek Agnihotri, Waman Kendre, Vidya Balan, T S Nagabharana, Ramesh Patange (existing member), Vani Tripathi Tikoo (existing member), Jeevitha Rajasekhar and Mihir Bhuta (existing member). The news did come as a surprise despite months of speculation that concerted efforts were underway to remove Nihalani.

In fact, a few days after Union Cabinet Minister for Textiles Smriti Irani being given additional charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry rumours were rife that one of three national award-winning filmmakers — Prakash Jha, Madhur Bhandarkar or Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi — would replace Nihalani.

Prasoon’s appointment has come as a big surprise, though a pleasant one, to the industry.

Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit, who was spearheading the oust-Nihalani campaign, said the government was facing a lot of discomfort over several of CBFC’s decisions. “He sat in on all screenings and took arbitrary decisions. The power of the chair went to his head and he created a fear psychosis in the industry, ridiculing and abusing filmmakers. The final nail possibly was giving Madhur Bhandarkar’s just-released film, set against the backdrop of Emergency, 57 cuts,” Pandit said.

Writer-filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, who is a member on the reconstituted Board, spoke to Mumbai Mirror from San Francisco. He said that a few hours before the news was announced, he received a call from Irani, explaining the process of picking new members and revamping the CBFC to him. “The reason I accepted was because she’s the new I&B Minister and Prasoon is CBFC chairman. Both are openminded and we want to progressively facilitate certification of films for producers in sync with the Cinematograph Act. Prasoon, Vidya and I are on the same page.”

Shyam Benegal, who headed a committee constituted by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry to revamp the process of film certification, and had recommended several amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952, said the government has made a good choice in Prasoon. “He is a well-known lyricist working in the Hindi film industry and has headed a large advertising agency. He understands the mass media as well,” he said. Writer-filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who has had many skirmishes with the CBFC over his last two films -- Love Games (18 cuts but cleared by the Tribunal) and Raaz Reboot (A certificate and the use of the word ‘f***’ reduced from 32 to 16 times) — sounded a note of caution. “There’s a lot of hope from colleagues like Vidya, Vivek and Prasoon. But even they are answerable to the Cinematograph Act. Unless it is changed and a new system of certification introduced, their hands too will be tied by the law,” he said.

When Mumbai Mirror asked Agnihotri if the presence of Prasoon (full-time lyricist), Vidya and Gauthami (active actors), Agnihotri himself (a director in action) won’t lead to conflict of interest, he said: “The CBFC’s viewing committee will be an absolutely separate body, independent of influences. The focus will be on how cinema will evolve in the next five years and how, with the best interpretation of the law, we can provide new ratings for films."

Nihalani did not respond to calls and messages from Mumbai Mirror. Joshi had not responded to a set of questions sent to him the time of going to the press. — Inputs by Avinash Lohana, Sanyukta Iyer

Alankrita Shrivastava
We should move from censorship to certification. Changing an individual will not change the system. Having dealt with Pahlaj Nihalani, who doesn’t watch films in a context, it will be better to have Prasoon Joshi. Shyam Benegal committee’s report should be incorporated.

Hansal Mehta
Prasoon is a reputed person but when will the guidelines change? We can’t rely on individual sensibilities. Guidelines have to be clearer. CBFC’s job is not to censor but certify films. You can’t blame an individual for his sensibilities. We should rejoice when the guidelines change.

Madhur Bhandarkar
I don’t want to comment on any individual but it’s a welcome move by the I&B ministry. All industry people should welcome it. Prasoon Joshi comes from an advertising background and has a different perspective on modernity. I applaud Government of India for this change.

Mahesh Bhatt
Prasoon Joshi, as industry insider and adman, with icons in their own spaces, inspires optimism after the rough ride with one of our own, Pahlaj Nihalani. But an enlightened chairperson will not be able to do much if the censor code remains shackled to old mindsets.