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'Moral Policing Is Not The Job Of The Censor Board': Leela Samson

09/06/2016 12:22 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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With each snip of the film censorship scissor, the chorus demanding that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) be scrapped is getting louder. Anurag Kashyap's ongoing battle against the Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani over his latest movie Udta Punjab has exposed yet again how easily films fall prey to politics, and that there's constant moral policing from the entertainment watchdog. BornofWeb.com spoke exclusively to Leela Samson, former chief of the CBFC, about the Board's style of functioning, the growing banning culture in films and on whether the Shyam Benegal-headed committee instituted to revamp the CBFC will be able to rewrite the censorship rules. Excerpts of an interview:

The Central Board of Film Certification seems to have taken its role too seriously. What's your opinion on the overzealous censorship being imposed on movies?

I believe that the role of the CBFC should be to facilitate good cinema. Good cinema is not necessarily comfortable, entertaining or has happy endings. But film-makers would like to break from stereotypes and make stronger statements. The CBFC exists because cinema exists, and must work with the industry to complete the formalities of certification. Censorship is certainly not its job.

If a group of five individuals can tell a director to alter a film in 80 or 90 ways, then perhaps they are best equipped to make the film...

If a group of five individuals can tell a director to alter a film in 80 or 90 ways, then perhaps they are best equipped to make the film, not him (the film-maker). It also suggests that if you change those five individuals with another five individuals, you will get another point of view.

Artistic interference is not their job. Certification is all that is required. Moral policing the industry or the citizens of this mature nation is not the CBFC's business.

Shyam Benegal is heading the committee appointed by the government to revamp the Censor Board. What, according to you, is decaying the Board? What changes would you like to see?

Before Mr Benegal and his committee were appointed, Justice Mukul Mudgal was appointed to look at the Cinematograph Act. His recommendations and copious suggestions and notes are with the Ministry (of Information & Broadcasting), and in fact, on their website. These recommendations await passing in Parliament as the amended Act. This is what the industry as a whole and in unison should raise their voices for -- an amended Act that [deals] with all these issues and more with extreme competence. Why fight for small gains with this or that film? The larger issue seems to evade them -- a hundred years of Indian cinema and a prehistoric Act, made when cinema was at its infancy. Demand, instead, for an updated Act, for an industry that is changing in leaps and bounds technologically.

Why fight for small gains with this or that film? The larger issue seems to evade [the film industry] -- a prehistoric Act, made when cinema was at its infancy.

So what is pertinent to ask is if the ministry intends to act upon the recommendations made by the committees that they themselves set up. Valuable discussions, public money and precious time have been put in by eminent artists, lawyers, members and officials of the CBFC. What has happened? I do not believe that the Benegal-headed committee has suggested anything new or contrary to those recommendations.

The Board is not decaying. Attitudes that are thrust upon the Board or chairman by political forces -therefore, the ministry -- are what is in decay. We would all like to see a healthy return to independent film-making without coercion, threats or rulings. If the nation does not like what is being made, simply ignore it. It will die a natural death.

They have set up the CBFC with limitations precisely so it can take the flak when necessary. It is [a] convenient punching bag...

Mr Pahlaj Nihalani, the present chairperson of the Board, has alleged that Anurag Kashyap took money from AAP to make Udta Punjab. Isn't bizarre that the CBFC chairperson is brazenly dragging politics in this issue? Do you think he has hurt the ethos of the Censor Board?

I have no idea about this. No comments.

The I&B Ministry is acting like a mute spectator in this whole issue. Both ministers, Arun Jaitley and Rajyavardhan Rathore, have snubbed Kashyap. Do you buy the ministry's argument claiming that the government cannot interfere in the certification process?

The ministry can play god, or mute spectator. It is their prerogative. They have set up the CBFC with limitations precisely so it can take the flak when necessary. It is the convenient punching bag between the industry (film) that hates it and the ministry that strangulates it.

You had cited interference and corruption of the Board officials appointed by the I&B ministry at the time of your resignation from CBFC. Do you think the CBFC is a political stooge?

I have no doubt that interference was an issue.

Do you think Mr Nihalani should resign on moral grounds?

Whose morals?

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