The best advice that one could give any person selected to head the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) of Indian cinema would be the words from an F Scott Fitzgerald quote - "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
It's ironic that these lines were a part of Fitzgerald's essay called "The Crack Up" that the author wrote about the pressures of fame, and when it comes to heading the CBFC almost everyone who has led the outfit in the recent past had displayed a penchant to do the opposite of what seems to be the sane thing.
Irrespective of the fact that the outfit's job is to merely grant certification from a pre-existing list, it has of gotten into spaces that can best be defined as bizarre and strange, and for better or for worse this, unfortunately, has a lot to do with the person heading it. Although one ought not to make personal comments on people holding public posts, when it comes to the incumbent CBFC chairman, Pahlaj Nihalani, one cannot help but do just that.
If reports are to be believed, then amongst other things Nihalani most recently had an objection with the word "intercourse" in the trailer of upcoming Imtiaz Ali film Jab Harry Met Sejal because he felt that the Indian audiences might not be ready for such progressiveness! It is such instances where one cannot help but judge not only Nihalani but also the brains that came up with his name to head the outfit.
Since the early 1990s the CBFC has had a chairperson who has been directly related to films (Shakti Samanta, Asha Parekh, Vijay Anand, Anupam Kher and Sharmila Tagore to name a few), and yet it is in the same duration that the Board has come under constant criticism and most from within the fraternity itself.
Most people are not fully aware of the work that is expected from the Board; their job is to certify films for viewing under the four categories - "U" (unrestricted public exhibition), "A" (restricted to adult audiences), "U/A" (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve) and "S" (restricted to specialised audiences such as doctors or scientists) and they must operate under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952.
The Act was formulated nearly 65 years ago but was never updated along with the changes that took place in the society. In order to certify a film under one of the categories, the Board often ends up "advising" filmmakers to make some changes and this is where the trouble begins.
Many things that would be considered normal by most people today were a no-go as per the Cinematograph Act and as most filmmakers prefer a "U" certification over an "A" certificate, the suggestion can become questionable. Things get complicated because a film cannot be screened in India without a certification from the CBFC and the denial of certification can tantamount, in the manner of speaking, to a film being "Banned."
While the need of the hour is to update the Cinematograph Act and for this to happen members from both government, as well as civil society along with filmmakers and artists, need to sit together and come up with a law that best suits all parameters. But until that happens nothing can excuse the selection of someone like Nihalani to head the outfit.
As a producer, Nihalani once featured songs such as "Khada hai, Khada hai" and "Main maalgadi hoon dhaka laga" in his film Andaz, but today seems to have a problem with the duration of a kissing scene in a James Bond film. Appointed in January 2015 at a time when Arun Jaitley was heading the I&B ministry, Nihalani's apportionment came days after the previous chairperson, Leela Samson, quit.
Under Samson, the CBFC has denied clearance to release Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's film MSG: The Messenger of God, which from the job profile was not a prerogative of the Board, to begin with. Nihalani has been the cause of great controversy and, in the opinion of this writer, even great embarrassment, for how else would one describe a CBFC chairperson asking for 1,00,000 votes from the public to clear the promo of Jab Harry Met Sejal with the word "intercourse" as well as the film?
And, later he also refused to answer a journalist when cornered by saying something to the effect that he "can't talk about sex with a reporter young enough to be my daughter". Even as a producer Nihalani was rarely considered an A-lister and besides introducing Govinda in Ilzaam (1986), his biggest achievement was to head the President of the Association of Pictures and TV Programme Producers from 1980 till 2009.
It's sad that hardly any of the CBFC chairpersons in the last three decades have been able to bring the debate to a point where some serious changes could be initiated. Perhaps it was only Vijay Anand who tried to do something concrete - he suggested that the government introduce an "X" rating that could be used to certify adult films that were being regularly, and brazenly enough, showed across cinema halls in India in morning shows - but was embarrassed to such an extent that he chose to resign.
In hindsight, Anand, in a way, was actually demanding for porn films to be certified, but look deeper and maybe he was trying to lay the foundation for a change. At a time when Indian cinema is truly coming of age in more ways than one, someone like Nihalani is the last person to expect anything halfway sensible from. Compare Vijay Anand with Nihalani and you would gauge what Margaret Atwood meant when she mused that stupidity if judged by the results, is the same as evil.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)