The Indian film industry – be it commercial, indie or regional cinema - known for being spineless, has perhaps for the first time shown a kind of united fortitude for a common cause. They have rallied behind the film Udta Punjab and are attacking the person - Pahlaj Nihalani, the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification - who is threatening to censor it so badly that nothing but a mangled mess will remain.
It is not the first time that Mr. Nihalani has come under attack from the fraternity he belongs to. But this is the first time that the kind of cuts he has asked for reach a level of Kafkaesque ridiculousness – imagine asking the name of a state to be removed on flimsy grounds from a film whose very title has that name. Hence, this is also the first time that the industry has reacted unanimously as some of the biggest names of the Bollywood/Hindi film industry – directors and producers - came together to address a press conference yesterday, to speak in unison, in one language, beyond their personal political leanings in the cause of freedom of speech.
Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who is one of the producers of Udta Punjab (the other - Ekta Kapoor – remained conspicuous by her silence despite her presence in the press conference), spoke the most passionately. Here are some edited excerpts. You can see the video of the entire conference here:
“It is unfortunate that we have to sit here and justify our integrity, our honesty. It seems like everywhere, at every stage we need a certificate, a government approved stamp which states that I am honest, that I have not taken any money from a party, that I am just a filmmaker who has come here from afar just to make films. I didn’t know that we would have to so raze so many hills, cross so many seas just to make films.
But after coming here, once I began making my first film I realised all this. There was an innocence with which I made my film Black Friday which people say I cannot make another like it. That is because that one film killed my innocence. In the process of getting that film out I became aware of what you can say and cannot, what you are allowed to say and what you are not allowed. Since then my fight has been to get back that innocence.
There is a kind of cinema that I like but I am not able to make because I know what loses I will run into if I do. But there are films we want to make, films that shake us and which we want to put out there. Sometimes we don’t’ even want to shake anything and just want to subvert something. We want twist something by its ear just to see what happens. We should have the right to do that, to subvert and till we don’t, I don’t think we can make any kind of progress.
When I talk of censorship now, I don’t’ talk about a particular party. Our fight is not with the current censor board. Our fight has been on for ages. People want to give it the colour of being against a particular political party, make this into a big game with the result that our words are never taken seriously.
Every time a new government and I&B minister has taken charge, even if it was a new minister in the same old government, we had developed a new hope that perhaps this man will support us. Perhaps he will understand our words. We have felt the surge of this optimism every time.
When the new MoS, Mr. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore came down to meet us two years back, that gave us a lot of hope because this hadn’t happened before. When Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani was made the censor chief, it gave us a lot of hope because finally one of our own man had become its chief. We had no idea that our situation would become such that in the last two years, a record number of films would go to the tribunal as compared to before. What has happened in the last two years? Have our films gone from bad to worse so much that every film has to go to the tribunal to get cleared? Or are we dealing with such a force who is doing his own bidding?
And why is it that the films of only a select few people are not being passed? Because these are people with a point of view, with a mind of their own, who debate, who do not accept anything with closed eyes. These people face a lot of trouble. Delaying and bullying us has become a process to delay the film so much that it reaches the date for release and at that point, a filmmaker under financial pressure would have to accept all the cuts and dictates of the board just to release the film. This bullying has been going on for long and they have to take the help of many lies to defend it.
There are lies in everything. This morning, new allegations were made by Pahlajji. The first thing he said was that on Monday his certificate was ready and none of us went to take it. We sent a legal letter yesterday which their office acknowledged. This is a man who when he gets caught does not know what to do and shoots one lie after another. We do not want such a man to be the head of the censor board. It is meant to be a certification board. We want someone we can put our point across with and we don’t want to cut our films.
The fact that we have spent time, energy and money to edit the film that we give to the censors, means that from our side, that is a definitive film, means that this is the film that we want the world to see. We put the film to certify not so that some stranger could cut it. We know our responsibility and we do not make films just like that.
I am so much against censorship that even if someone makes a film just like that, even he should be allowed. Because the only one who has the right to reject a film is the audience. If I don’t want to see a terrible film, I don’t buy its ticket. But this does not mean that the film which I think is nonsensical, should not be released. That film has as much right to get released as any other. There should not be any difference between him and me. And this fight for our rights is the fight for our freedom of expression. If we call one thing expression, and don’t call another so, that discrimination should not happen.
The fight is interpreted in such a way that it since we fight for a political film, we pull down another film stating that it was a sex comedy. Why? Our sensibilities can be different. We want to see all kind of films, there is an audience for all kinds of films. Give the audience the right to reject the film.
How can one man decide the entire nation’s morality? Who knows, my moral boundaries might be baser and theirs wider. And why shouldn’t each of us have the right to determine our own moral boundaries.
The way Mr. Nihalani has been dealing us has been mentally distressing, financially distressing and has literally broken our backs and confidence. A lot of producers and studios are not attempting to encourage and support a cinema that makes sense to a whole lot of us. It is because of the attitude of one man sitting up there.
So somewhere I feel Sudhir is right, when he says that that this is a systematic ploy to tell us to not make a certain kind of cinema. And we want our right to do that and this why we are all sitting here.”
On accusation that he has taken money from political party: “Of course I did not take any money from any politician or political party. But I even feel ashamed defending myself. I wish someone gives me a lot of money because I have a lot of ideas in my head which I want to turn into films.“
On the accusation that he is publicity hungry: “It is not the first time that I have been called that. And you are the media. You can answer this question more than me. Do I really pick your calls, do I really reach out to you. How many people can say that I always take their calls (media says: none). That answers the question.”
On the accusation that he has not talked to Pahlaj Nihalani about Udta Punjab: “That I have made absolutely clear. I do not talk to Pahlaj Nihalani at all. I do not do that because I do not want to go through the humiliation of talking to him.”
What if even the FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) asks to do the cuts: “This has not happened ever before in FCAT. But I don’t want to presume right now so we will decide when the time comes.“
On whether the film refers to politician: “The film does not refer to any politician or political party.”
On how many cuts they have asked for and when will they release it: “They have asked us to remove certain words like ‘Punjab’. That comes 94 times in the film. Then there are names of cities in Punjab. We are trying to release it on the 17th itself. We want to show the film as we have edited it, without cuts. So we don’t’ want cuts in the film. We want the film to come intact and for that we will fight as much as we can and as per our capacity.
On Pahlaj Nihalani: “I think Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani’s problem is that of control. The person he cannot control, he becomes and enemy of that person.”
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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