Time might be running out for Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahalaj Nihalani.
Time might be running out for Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahalaj Nihalani. After the Udta Punjab controversy blew up in the government’s face, the I&B ministry is seriously examining the Shyam Benegal report. Speculation is rife that Mr Benegal could replace the controversial CBFC chairman.
Hinting at possible changes in film certification, I&B minister Arun Jaitley said on Friday that “some very radical changes” will be announced over the next few days.
Speaking to a TV channel, he said, “There is a well documented report by Shyam Benegal, the first part of which has come to me and which is under consideration. Over the next few days we are going to announce some very radical changes in that.”
Mr Jaitley, who remains one of the liberal faces of the BJP and the Modi government, told the channel, “The correct word is certification, and not censorship. Certification norms will have to be liberal.”
With the Bombay high court on Friday reminding Mr Nihalani that his “job is to certify films, not censor them”, trouble mounted for the CBFC chief who had earlier declared that he was “proud to be the PM’s chamcha (sycophant)”. That his pride in being the PM’s “chamcha” was not appreciated by the government became evident when Union minister for communications and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “The Pradhan Mantri doesn’t need any sycophants.” Speaking in Mumbai, Mr Nihalani refused to comment, saying the matter was now in court.
Reports have emerged revealing that Mr Nihalani’s son Chirag, and Chirag’s wife Radhika, are part of the production and marketing teams of the film Udta Punjab. While Mr Nihalani’s son and daughter-in-law are quiet about their involvement in Udta Punjab, questions are now being asked about why the CBFC chief was allegedly targeting the films after the trailer was released. As per earlier media reports, Chirag is a creative producer associated with all promotional material related to the film, including its trailer, while Radhika is reportedly part of the film’s marketing team.
A section of top BJP functionaries feel that Mr Nihalani “has become a liability rather than an asset”. His statements and handling of the CBFC have also not gone down well with the government, which has been facing criticism over “saffronisation of institutions”.
This time, Mr Nihalani’s seeking of 89 cuts in the film and targeting film-maker Anurag Kashyap took both the government and the BJP by surprise. Besides his “proud to be the PM’s chamcha” remark, his accusation that Mr Kashyap has “taken money from AAP” did not go down well with the BJP. The BJP, which is fighting with its back to the wall in the forthcoming Punjab polls, felt the controversy created Mr Nihalani was giving the advantage to the Congress and AAP, both of which have “dared” Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal to screen the film.
Playing down the ongoing controversy, Mr Jaitley said, “I think that we are overstating it because at the end of the day you have a board which takes a view which may be a little conservative view. But then, at the appeal tribunal, with an appeal it can get disposed of. My experience has been almost everything then gets cleared.” The I&B minister said that he “looks at the big picture” and that “the big picture is a certification board.” He added: “We popularly call it censor board and you have the appeal tribunal. Now, whenever you have a problem at the level of the first body, people go to the next slab, and in almost 99 per cent of the cases, with or without some changes, it gets cleared by the next body.”