The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Friday sacked film producer Pahlaj Nihalani three years after his appointment as the chief of Central Board of Film Certification. Lyricist Prasoon Joshi will replace him at the Censor Board. The decision to remove Nihalani came as a surprise but was welcomed by several film directors and producers in Bollywood fraternity.
Film veterans like Shyam Benegal hope that after Prasoon Joshi takes over things will improve at the Censor Board. Speaking to a news agency, Benegal said: "Prasoon Joshi himself is an artiste. He is a highly rated poet, he also knows media extremely well. He was the head of the best advertising agency of India, he understands mass media, cinema, television, press. So I cannot think of a better choice (than him)."
Reactions like this are obvious as Nihalani's three years tenure as CBFC chief was mired with several controversies. His approach to creative themes and subjects in films appeared to have been guided by his moral conducts. Some of Pahlaj Nihalani's decisions were so controversial that he was given a nick name, by some, Sanskari Censor chief. Here are some of the most controversial decisions that Pahlaj Nihalani made during his stint.
CBFC ordered 89 cuts in Udta Punjab: Abhishek Chaubey's drugs-themed Udta Punjab became the first casualty of Pahlaj Nihalani. He had problems with the 'vulgar' language and the singling out Punjab in depiction of drugs. Nihalani asked the directors to make a total of 89 cuts, including deletion of all references to Punjab and its cities, politics and elections.
Udta Punjab Co-Producer Anurag Kashyap called Pahlaj Nihalani 'an oligarch' and 'a dictator' adding that it felt like living in North Korea. Amitabh Bachchan reacted saying don't kill creativity. In a tweet, He said: "I am not aware of the issue, but would like to say that don't try to kill creativity." Finally, the censor board cleared 'Udta Punjab' with 13 cuts under the 'A' category.
CBFC cut down the length of kissing scenes in Spectre: Pahlaj Nihalani was once gain at the centre of row and this time over a James Bond film Spectre. In this movie, the CBFC objected to 22 second kiss and reduced it to 8 seconds. The rationality behind cutting down the length of kiss was questioned.
Nihalani did this without even watching the movie. In an interview to a news channel, Nihalani said: "We have given the certificate but I have not watched the movie. I am the chairman but it is not my job to watch the movie. I have not watched a single shot of the film. I have not even watched the kiss, which has been debated upon." He further said that he had done everything within the rules.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan director Kabir Khan called the decision 'ridiculous'. He further said: "We have to be told as adults we can't see a kiss? And a kiss being reduced from 30 seconds to 8 seconds? Are those 22 seconds going to destroy our morality and the culture of our country? This is absolutely ridiculous that the censor board has to act like a nanny."
Pahlaj Nihalani banned cuss words in movies: Pahlaj Nihalani in 2015 issued a directive in which he asked filmmakers and directors not to use 34 cuss words. However, this decision did not go well within the CBFC board members. Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit said, "The unilateral decision was in bad taste. After discussions, it was unanimously decided that there should be a debate on the issue.'' Later in a stormy seven-hour meeting, the directive was withdrawn.
The CBFC members said that Nihalani had exceeded his brief and the order was outside the purview of the board. The directive banning the use of "objectionable" and "abusive" words was circulated by Nihalani, but the CBFC decided to hold its implementation after a massive controversy broke out.
CBFC refused to certify Lipstick Under My Burkha: Alankrita Shrivastava-directed Lipstick Under My Burkha became the latest casualty of Pahlaj Nihalani's Sanskari stand. The CBFC refused to certify the movie. The Censor Board tried to justify its stand and listed out its objections behind the denial of the certification and said: "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines (sic)."
The film's director Alankrita Shrivastava in a statement said: "I believe the decision to refuse certification to our film is an assault on women's rights. For too long the popular narrative has perpetuated patriarchy by objectifying women or minimising their role in a narrative. So a film like 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', that challenges that dominant narrative is being attacked because it presents a female point of view. Do women not have the right of freedom of expression?"
Finally, country's Film Certification Appellate Tribunal said the movie can be released with an adult certificate. The movie later won the Oxfam Award for the Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.