Film censorship has dominated headlines over the past few days, as the whole #SanskaariJamesBond controversy (which erupted last week after the Central Board of Film Certification asked for some rather ridiculous cuts to the latest James Bond film, Spectre) became a talking point recently.
This was followed by a sprawling interview of l’enfant terrible Pahlaj Nihalani, the incumbent chairman of the CBFC (commonly referred to as the Censor Board), that appeared on the front page of Mumbai Mirror on Sunday. The piece, which has been widely shared on social media, ran with the headline ‘You want to do sex in your house with the door open’ — Nihalani’s actual response to a question on how it makes a difference if a kiss lasts for a few seconds as opposed to, say, a minute.
The ongoing ninth edition of Film Bazaar — a film market organised every year by the government body National Film Development Corporation of India (NDFC) that takes place in Panjim, Goa — saw a visit by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, within whose purview the CBFC exists.
In a press conference held at the Film Bazaar venue on Saturday, Rathore spoke to journalists (this writer included) about the various issues concerning film censorship in India. Here are some of the minister’s reponses to the concerns that were raised:
On censorship itself
“The main role of the CBFC is certification, not censorship. CBFC cannot give suggestions to filmmakers to cut scenes and change details. That can only certify the film. If a producer wants to make changes, he can make them himself. We are very clear on this.”
On the long-overdue updation of the Cinematograph Act of 1952, which forms the basis for how films are certified in India
“The I&B Ministry is working on a new Act. The Justice Mudgal Committee is ready with the first draft. After taking more opinions from experts, we may put it out in the public domain.”
On how the ministry is working towards making the process of censorship more transparent
“We are setting up an online process of certification wherein no CBFC member can decide the date on which a producer will screen his film, so there is no pressure on him. Once our software improves, we might take the entire process online, whereby you don’t have to meet or interact with anyone. We could achieve this in the next five years.”
On the ground reality of how Nihalani has allegedly been ignoring the rules (such as the decision to revoke a controversial ‘cuss word list’) as well as the issues raised by other CBFC board members
“The government does not interfere with their [CBFC’s] day-to-day activities… [however] what you are saying is absolutely true. This news has reached Mantralaya and the Board members are constantly updating us. The board should work together and its actions should be in favour of films, the government, and, of course, the entertainment of people. Also, thanks for mentioning our stand, and it still remains very clear: the language used in the film has to keeping in with the script and the scene and therefore an appropriate certification has to be given.”
On how this stand applies to films that are refused certification for other reasons, such as Kamal Swaroop’s documentary Battle For Benaras, which is allegedly being delayed by the CBFC on grounds of being overly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
“I won’t go into individual cases, but we’ll have a discussion with the board and take the appropriate steps. Ultimately, what the Board decides is up to them. The people of our country are all mature enough to know what they can or cannot watch. And therefore the job is certification.”
When asked when this ideal would be followed by the CBFC
“You don’t expect everything to get sorted on day 1, right? It takes time. Give it time and it will get sorted out. I like how you think with this government that six months is a long time but 60 years wasn’t enough for you to complain. Everything, at some level, should lead to progress for the country. And I thank you for your faith in the government."
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