Pahlaj Nihalani and Anurag Kashyap's recent brawl over Abhishek Chaubey's "Udta Punjab" has worked out well for the Indian media which thrives on controversies and altercations. While Kashyap has alleged that Nihalani, a megalomaniac, has taken it upon himself to curb free speech in films in India, Nihalani has shrugged off the accusations saying that the former merely wants to generate a buzz around his film by dragging his name in.
How to release #UdtaPunjab pic.twitter.com/F7i9aImRnY
— All India Bakchod (@AllIndiaBakchod) June 8, 2016
From what the media has reported so far, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has asked for 89 cuts in the film, including dropping the word "Punjab" from the film and its title, as well as not taking names of any other Indian cities/states. It has also barred the usage of words like MP, MLA, elections, etc. Abusive words and the names of drugs have been asked to be deleted. And to top it all off, the Board wants a disclaimer from the film maker at the end of the film which praises the efforts of the government and police forces in countering the drug menace, and asks for the support of the people.
Power is the most dangerous addiction of all & someone in the CBFC seems to be tripping hard on Lassi in the Sky with Diamonds. #UdtaPunjab
— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) June 7, 2016
Can't fix the drug problem in Punjab, so let's fix the film that shows drug problems in Punjab... "UDTA PUNJAB"
— Arshad Warsi (@ArshadWarsi) June 10, 2016
They're Fine With A State Getting Ruined By Drugs Misuse & Mafia,What Baffles Them Is A Movie Made On It.Sigh!
India Stands With Udta Punjab
— Sir Ravindra Jadeja (@SirJadeja) June 8, 2016
Censorship in films is not new to India, ever since the enactment of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, a colonially inherited piece of legislation which was used by the British to stifle dissent against the government. For example, in K. A. Abbas v. Union of India, Chief Justice Hidayatullah opined in favour of censorship where the petitioner had produced a documentary film titled Tale of Four Cities which depicted the huge gap in the lives of rich and poor people in four cities in India. In Raj Kapoor v. Laxman, the film producer of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, was prosecuted for obscenity.
Not only did the State try to censor films but also attempted to stifle the voice of the television. However, the outlook of the judges evolved with time, most notably in the cases of LIC v. Manubhai Shah and Ramesh v. Union of India which was about the TV series Tamas depicting communal violence between Hindus and Muslims during the 1947 Partition.
The Supreme Court in assessing what is "indecent" in Bobby Arts International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon (Bandit Queen case) emphasised the importance of the context in which they occurred, the intention of the filmmaker, and the likely effect upon 'ordinary' adults who watched the film.
At this point, it is important to mention that the Constitution of India under Article 19(1)(a) guarantees every person the right to free speech and expression. It is a fundamental right of every citizen, enforceable by law, and a human right recognized in most civilized democratic societies in the world.
But freedom and rights don't exist in Mr. Nihalani's dictionary. Ever since being appointed as the CBFC chief a year and a half back by the extremely tolerant and open minded BJP government, Nihalani has taken it upon himself to filter the content that enters Indian societies through cinema; calling for arbitrary cuts in films, refusing to grant censor certificates and harassing every filmmaker with an independent voice, while loudly proclaiming that he is "proud to be a Modi chamcha".
No surprises for guessing then why the Censor Board, and in particular, Mr. Nihalani himself, does not want this film to be showcased, with the Punjab Assembly elections scheduled in 2017, and the Akali Dal- BJP alliance already receiving flak for turning a blind eye to the drug menace in the state and allowing it to flourish in broad daylight.
Ban on Udta Punjab is yet another example of how Akali-BJP combine has always placed their electoral interest above that of Punjab (1/6)
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) June 10, 2016
Reality is at the top of the list of censorable items in the BJP/RSS Censor world. #UdtaPunjab pic.twitter.com/W2nC1udKKB
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) June 10, 2016
This time, however, it seems like Nihalani has picked the wrong fight. Anurag Kashyap is known to be one who doesn't mince his words and isn't afraid of fighting his battles in a courtroom. And with the entire film and art community backing Kashyap (even Anupam Kher couldn't justify Pahlani's actions) and acknowledging the need for absolute freedom of speech and expression in cinema, this could spell the end of Nihalani's stint as CBFC Chief. Or he might get a promotion to join the ministerial ranks.
The Bombay High Court today has already reprimanded the actions of the CBFC, reminding it that its job is to certify, not censor films. It has also mentioned that films are supposed to reflect reality and that the audience should be allowed to make a choice if a film is good or bad, following precedents which have been set by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi addressed the US Congress on democracy, liberty, freedom and the benefits of yoga and received a standing ovation.