Addressing the ongoing controversy surrounding Udta Punjab, a bunch of actors, writers and filmmakers assembled in Juhu, Mumbai today afternoon to register their protest against the dictatorial ways of the Censor Board.
Present were filmmakers Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Imtiaz Ali, Aanand L. Rai, Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, Vikas Bahl, Ekta Kapoor, Madhu Mantena, actor Satish Kaushik,Udta Punjab director Abhishek Chaubey, lead stars Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.
Ashoke Pandit moderated the session that lasted for over an hour.
Dismissing CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani's claims that he took money from Aam Aadmi Party to fund his film, co-producer of Udta Punjab, Anurag Kashyap said, "I don't know how to react to this. Of course I haven't taken any money. I feel ashamed that I have to even defend this."
The filmmaker said Nihalani had deliberately slowed down the process. He said that the Examining Committee watched the film as early as May 10, but yet a formal letter of cuts or suggestions wasn't presented to the makers thereby delaying the process. It was only after the producers, Balaji Motion Pictures and Phantom, approached the Bombay High Court yesterday did Nihalani relent and handed over the letter.
Said Kashyap, "We sent him a legal notice yesterday. Today, we went to the High Court. Right after the first hearing, we got the letter of cuts. We immediately applied for FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal). Right now, the judge is not available. He is on leave until the 16th. We're requesting for a window before that and we'll see how it goes."
To this, Mukesh Bhatt said that Nihalani knew well in advance that the judge was going on that long leave. He deliberately delayed handing over the RC certificate so the makers have no choice but to push the release date and incur loses.
Seething with rage, he said, "I can assure you that this process has been deliberately delayed. Nihalani knew the judge was going to be on leave post-June 1. This has been done to sabotage the movie so that they cannot approach the FCAT within time. This is a vicious move. This is the most dangerous thing to happen. It needs to be rectified."
Added Bhatt, "The makers literally got the letter 2 hours before today's press conference. You have to deliver the overseas print of the film one week before the release. Nihalani, being a film industry person, should know this. How can it work like this? Today, I am asking for him to be sacked. I am asking the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to remove Nihalani from the post. He doesn't deserve to sit on that chair. His intention is only to cause harm to the film industry. He is conniving in every act. He will delay every process."
Kashyap reiterated the fact that the film, as reported by certain sections of the media, doesn't refer to either the elections or to any specific political party. "There is no such reference. The government is only projecting its fears and insecurities on to us filmmakers."
When asked about Nihalani's criticism that the film presents the Punjabi community in a negative light, Kashyap said, "That's his interpretation of the film. I can't help it."
Mukesh Bhatt also emphasised the fact that the battle with the Censor Board is causing a major dent in the budget of the film. "The film stands to lose 60 crores if the release is halted. Who is going to pay that kind of money? Will the government cough up the amount that Balaji and Phantom have invested?" he said angrily.
A number of filmmakers present at the event agreed that the tyrannical functioning of the Censor Board is creating an environment of fear where filmmakers are succumbing to pre-censorship, essentially curtailing their ideas before even putting them on paper, let alone film.
Veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who has fought against censorship all through the 70s and the 80s when he was actively directing films, said, "There is a dangerous trend of pre-censorship that will start taking space in the minds of writers, directors, and producers. Before a thought can even be articulated, they'll be forced to kill it. When a policeman sits inside your own mind, then that society cannot be called free. There is no freedom without free thought. We must all fight against this trend of pre-censorship."
Here is a copy of the legal notice that Phantom sent to the CBFC.
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