The filmmaker who gave us the infamous song, “Khada Hai Khada Hai”, has finally been unseated as the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
In his troublesome two year-and-seven-month reign, Pahlaj Nihalani had become the powerful puppeteer who toyed with filmmakers, intimidating and humiliating them with his long list of excessive cuts and changes. Filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava, whose film Lipstick Under My Burkha was one of the latest targets of the CBFC, said that when the Nihalani-led revising committee summoned her, she felt like a criminal in a court. Even the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) didn’t make you feel that, she added, and that’s actually a hearing with the judges.
In an interview to a news channel, Nihalani admitted that he had become a liability to the government, embarrassing them routinely with his sanskaari diktats to the filmmakers. Trips to FCAT in Delhi had become far too frequent. The court’s reversal of CBFC’s decision to deny certification to Udta Punjab and Lipstick... didn’t seem to have much of an impact on Nihalani, who instead continued with his sanctimonious approach objecting to the inclusion of words such as “intercourse”.
The films seeking ‘A’ rating and documentaries were the hardest hit. He demanded the removal of words like “Gujarat”, “Hindutva” and “cow” from the The Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, and the makers of An Insignificant Man were asked to produce no-objection certificates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sheila Dikshit, Arvind Kejriwal and bleep out the names of the Congress and the BJP. The film follows the rise of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
Nihalani had also stated that films screened at international film festivals as well as those available on video-on-demand platforms needed to pass the CBFC guidelines which is currently out of its purview. Ultimately it was the "me versus them" attitude towards the film industry that was enough for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to end his tenure five months prematurely.
The filmmaker who gave us the infamous song, 'Khada Hai Khada Hai', has finally been unseated as the CBFC chairman.
Someday a book will be written about Nihalani’s contentious tenure at the CBFC. Or even better a satirical comedy could be made. For all you know Nihalani, who has declared that he’d return to filmmaking, may himself project his achievements in a short film and upload it on YouTube soon. It could be as tacky as his tribute to the nation’s PM to whom he served with utmost loyalty. Only Modi was no longer happy with the constant scrutiny that his devoted stooge found himself in, which only maligned the government’s reputation.
With actress-turned-politician Smriti Irani stepping in to take charge of the I&B ministry, the impact was immediate. May be Irani’s friend Ekta Kapoor, who had Nihalani to thank for publicising and jepoardising her film Udta Punjab – the biggest of the many stains during his hegemony – had alerted Irani of how unpopular a figure Nihalani was among film folks.
In a quick move, ad man, lyricist, poet and writer Prasoon Joshi was roped in. As of now any individual would seem to be an improvement over Nihalani, that’s how low the bar he had set.
On paper, Joshi’s body of work is far better than that of Nihalani. As the creative head and CEO of McCann Erickson, Joshi was the brains behind the ingenious Happydent commercial, judged by The Gunn Report, a global ad journal, as one of the 20 best commercials of the century.
Joshi’s other noteworthy credits include co-writing three films for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra – Rang De Basanti (dialogues), Delhi-6 and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – and songs for Aamir Khan-starrers Taare Zameen Par, Ghajini and Fanaa among others. Currently, the head of Asia Pacific division of McCann Erickson, Joshi is also respected for his poetry.
What this extensive and varied work experience proves is that Joshi is more connected with the contemporary film industry, and also in tune with current cinema because at 45 he is still a working professional. But it’s not that he is entirely free of political bias and influence. If Nihalani was behind "Har Har Modi, Ghar Modi" musical short, then Joshi was behind BJP’s "Achche Din Aane Wale Hai" campaign during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and has penned the anthem titled "Swachh Bharat Ka Irada" for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
“One hopes to make a positive difference with the guidance and support of respected minds," said Joshi in a straightforward statement to the Press Trust of India. It remains to be seen whether Joshi will be given a free reign like Nihalani or will he be kept under check, given his background he has a more open-minded outlook towards arts.
Far more encouraging was the strongly worded statement issued by actress Vidya Balan, one of the 12 newly appointed members of the board. Part of the Cannes jury that unanimously awarded the Palme d’Or to the two actresses and director of Blue is the Warmest Colour, Balan said, "I look forward to this new and exciting phase where our cinema will be allowed to reflect the sensibilities, realities and complexities of the society we are living in today."
Other members include Bollywood filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri (Hate Story), South actress Gautami Tadimalla, Hindi author Narendra Kohli, filmmaker Naresh Chandra Lal, musician Neil Herbert Nongkynrih (founder of Shillong Chamber Choir), theatre director Waman Kendre (current head of the National School of Drama), Kannada filmmaker TS Nagabharana, writer Ramesh Patange (Me Manu Ani Sangh, a Marathi book about his stint with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), actress-turned-BJP politician Vani Tripathi Tikoo, actress and director Jeevitha Rajasekhar and film writer Mihir Bhuta.
All eyes will be on the decisions handed by the revised board. With Nihalani’s sacking, the I&B ministry has taken a positive step and reassured the Indian film industry.
It would be great to see it now acting on the recommendations of the committee headed by Shyam Benegal and updating the restrictive rules. More importantly, ensuring that the board sticks to certification and not take the scissorhands out to censor.