COURT CUTS CBFC AND ITS CHIEF DOWN TO SIZE
We wonder what anxiety, anguish and even anger the makers of “Udta Punjab” must have gone through soon after the CBFC and its learned chief Pahlaj Nihalani came down on the film heavily and gave all creative minds a scary feeling that creativity was at stake. Some even talked about living in a Banana republic or in one of the more strict states in the Gulf where creativity has to be in a state of fear and captivity all the time. The entire industry came together as one, producers and directors, writers and actors, technicians and even workers, they all were against the cruel cuts and mutilations wreaked on the film by a group of people who were appointed to certify films and not censor them to a state where the original they had made had been reduced to senseless and insensitive due to the decisions taken by the CBFC and its chief…To recapitulate what really happened. On June 6th, the CBFC came down with an iron hand on “Udta Punjab” and issued the kind of cuts that could kill the film. Among the main strictures the CBFC passed against the film was taking of “Punjab” from the title, “Udta Punjab” and the names of some of the major cities and towns of Punjab, the complete removal of all expletives, the deleting of entire scenes depicting drug addicts injecting themselves or taking drugs in any form and their changed behaviour after the addiction had taken its toll on them, the complete omission of titles like MLAs, MPs, elections and other activities associated with the state of Punjab which was to go for the assembly polls in the next six months.
“Udta Punjab” had to take eighty-nine cuts in the film which could reduce the film to less than a skeleton of what the film was planned; as a film made with all the good intentions to draw the attention of people all over the country to the growing scourge of drug-addiction that was ruining an entire generation all over Punjab, a truth that has been established by any number of genuine surveys conducted by NGO’s not only from India but from all over the world.
The filmmakers led by its fighter of a co-producer Anurag Kashyap had no choice left but to move the High Court in Bombay with high expectations as there was so much at stake with the film which was scheduled for an all- India and world release on June 17th, which meant that they had very little time on hand to take up the battle against the CBFC, a battle they were forced to fight with their backs to the wall or face disaster.
Fortunately for them the bench at the High Court consisting of two of the most experienced judges showed concern for creativity which they felt was in serious trouble after seeing the changes the CBFC had passed orders for. Unlike most other cases, the two judges Justice S.C Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi took only two days to save the producers from a situation which was almost like going to the gallows for exercising their freedom of expression which was a dominant right guaranteed to every Indian by the Constitution. It was indeed a great gesture on the part of the judges who are over burdened with the number of cases piled up to take the “Udta Punjab” case as a priority and the judgment they passed will now be remembered as a landmark judgement. They slammed and criticised the CBFC and its chief for the damage they were trying to do to an act of creativity. They in their learned opinion felt that the CBFC and its chief had gone all wrong in performing their duties. They dramatically brought down the number of cuts imposed by the CBFC from eighty-nine to just one. They allowed every expletive used in the film because they believed that they were an intrinsic part of the subject the film was dealing with. The one cut they asked for was entirely justified and in case of the expletives, they asked for a disclaimer which would read, “Neither the filmmaker nor the actors support the use of expletives and abusive language by any section of the society”. The judges also advised the makers to go easy in certain scenes according to their own sensitivities. That was all. “Udta Punjab” was free to fly the way the makers had and they forgot their major triumph in their excitement to somehow get their film released on the day it was supposed to.
The first statement after the judgment was passed came from the chairman of the CBFC under whose leadership so much of chaos, confusion and crisis was created in the realms of creativity and the chief who screamed now quietly said, “We respect the court order and will proceed as per its directives. I am happy for the industry and the creative people involved with the film”. The war has been won but we feel that the battle will continue as long as we have a censor board and its chief like we have today. Will this situation change for the better soon? I&B Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley has promised rapid reforms in the CBFC soon. The special committee headed by noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal has presented its report for the revamping of the CBFC. The industry is very unhappy with the way the CBFC and its chief are treating them now. Will better sense prevail in the largest democracy of the world? Will the freedom of expression be guaranteed to one and all as it is their right? All these and many more questions will have to find answers soon, before we are made objects of ridicule all around the world? There are a certain section of filmmakers who see the judgment in the “Udta Punjab” case as an incentive and inspiration to make similar or bolder films in the near future. Is this the right way to go or is the judgement a source of inspiration for creative people to make better and creative films? The weeks and months to come are going to be very crucial in this intermittent battle between filmmakers as they are and the censors as they think or believe they should be.