There have been times of controversies and crisis during the various Central Board for Film Certification, but never has the atmosphere been so full of fear and suspicion ever since Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani, one of the industry’s own producers has taken charge. He first shot into prominence when he issued his list of words which filmmakers had to avoid using in their films and created a furore and sent feelers to the film fraternity that this was only the beginning of a man and his mind which was determined to take charge more as a dictator than a chairman who would certify films and not crucify them. He lived up to his unveiled threat when he created hell for a James Bond film and other similar films for the excessive kissing scenes and the gory (according to him) scenes of violence. He has been creating endless problems for filmmakers with no one trying to tame him or show him his place and the limited powers he had as the chairman and not the scary power that he seemed to have assumed ever since he took over.

But, it is what he as the head of the CBFC has taken in the case of an about to be released film UDTA PUNJAB that he has made it very clear that he is a dictator and will do what he pleases even if it creates havoc for the filmmakers who even otherwise are always on tenterhooks. In the case of UDTA PUNJAB, the flighty and supposed to be mighty chairman seems to have crossed all limits and created the kind of stir that has literally made filmmakers shake in anger and force the entire industry to come together to cry foul against the chilling and almost killing decisions taken by the chairman in the name of LOSING THE PLOT !!! the CBFC. He has shocked the industry by asking the makers of the film to delete the name of Punjab from the title of the film, UDTA PUNJAB. There have been films made earlier with names of states going as a part of the titles of films vis a vis BOMBAY TO GOA, GO GOA GONE and BOMBAY VELVET among others, but why has he chosen to protect the sanctity of Punjab where the elections to the assembly are due in the coming months. He has also made eighty–nine cuts in the film and has ordered the makers to delete scenes of people being injected by drugs and every scene in which drugs are seen being used by people, young and old, male and female all over Punjab, a modern day reality which everyone is aware of and which has been established as a fact by several surveys conducted in the state over the years. In what seems to be the first time in the history of the censor board, he has asked for all references to MLAs, MPs and elections to be yanked of the film and according to reliable sources, he has also asked the makers to send home a message of what the BJP government is doing to fight the curse of drug addiction not only in Punjab but all over the country. What would be left of UDTA PUNJAB if all the diktats of Mr. Nihalani had to be followed meekly?

There would be no film in place of the film which was made with all the good intentions to highlight one of the major ills of Punjab and the country as a whole.  This kind of a stand taken by the learned chairman had to arouse the hurt feelings of the entire industry and as was expected they all came together in support of the film and against the diktats of the dictator whose ways are only growing wilder with time. Even the superstar Amitabh Bachchan went on to say that stifling creativity was “like killing the soul” and there were several filmmakers led by Mukesh Bhatt, the chairman of the Film Producers Guild of India who openly asked for the sacking of Mr. Nihalani.

What was more unbecoming of Mr. Chairman was how he reacted to the voices raised against him. He made statements that strictly went against his distinguished post. It sounded disgusting when he said that Anurag Kashyap, the coproducer of the film was financed by the AAP Party to give a bad name to Punjab on the eve of a crucial election. In one of his interviews, he said that he was given all the freedom by the Centre and in another, he made a statement he should be ashamed of. He is said to have answered a question by a senior reporter saying, “Yes, I am a chamcha of Narendra Modi, I am not the chamcha of the Italian Prime Minister”.

Does a statement like this say anything positive about the attitude of the chairman? As expected, the makers moved the Bombay High Court to redress their grievances. And as expected, the Court lashed out at the chairman and the CBFC. It said the Chairman and the CBFC had the duty of certifying films and not censoring them. Referring to the war of words between the chairman and the makers, the court called the whole shoddy affair “obnoxious”.  The final judgment on the issue will come from the High Court on Monday, June 13.

In the meanwhile, the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Arun Jaitley had to wait for this controversy to erupt to announce that some radical changes were expected to come in the functioning of the censor board in the next few days. The anxious wait is on, Mr. Jaitley… The committee appointed to revamp the working of the Censor Board headed by Shyam Benegal (he saw UDTA PUNJAB in a private screening arranged for him and called it a very important film) submitted its report in April. But nothing has been heard about it yet. When will the findings of the committee be made public? It is of utmost importance to know when if the present chairman has not to go on with his vengeful, devious and obnoxious ways. Trade Magazine