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Pahlaj Nihalani takes Punjabis for idiots

Kalyani Prasher
Kalyani PrasherJun 08, 2016 | 21:25

Pahlaj Nihalani takes Punjabis for idiots

Pahlaj Nihalani says some amazing things. "How is it a work of fiction when you are naming real towns from Punjab?" he asks. Who will tell him? Someone gift him Midnight’s Children? (Or, perhaps, The White Tiger may be closer to his intellectual prowess.)

If it was possible to worry any more about it, I would worry a lot that this man is, of all things, chief of the Central Board of Film Certification.

"Baat aapki aur meri nahi hai, yeh baat hai… Punjab ki," goes the powerful closing dialogue of the Udta Punjab movie trailer. If Nihalani’s objection is to be taken seriously, this dialogue could be altered to, "baat aapki aur meri nahi hai, yeh baat hai".

Roughly, this whole episode makes about that much sense.

To recap, Nihalani has asked for as many as 89 cuts to the upcoming movie Udta Punjab. Among these cuts and suggested alterations are names of all places, people or things related to Punjab, including the word Punjab.

"Very nice!" says the Censor Board. "Just delete all the words and dialogues." Instead of Abhishek Chaubey’s (he has given us fabulous movies Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya) movie that deals with Punjab’s drug problem, Nihalani wants a silent film about flying called Udta.

His logic does not fly though. He claims that he did this to avoid bringing a "bad name to the Punjabi community".

In an industry where ridiculous "sardarji" characters are often used as comic relief, sardar jokes and Punjabi stereotypes are in generous supply, and where Punjabis are often portrayed to be a loud, dowry-demanding, tharra-glugging, crass community comprising mainly of truck drivers and farmers, this is, at best, a thin argument.

But why even go there? The truth is that Udta Punjab is not doing anything to the Punjabi community at all. No one is in the least surprised or shocked at hearing about drugs and Punjab in the same breath. The drug problem of Punjab is well documented, one Google search will reveal scores of articles in mainstream media deliberating and discussing this real and urgent problem.

So, unless Nihalani thinks the movie-goers of this country never read a newspaper or watch television news, what purpose can dropping "Punjab" from the movie title serve? And why is he taking upon himself to shield the innocent Indian? If anything, this problem needs to be highlighted and brought to national attention, and cinema is one of the best mediums to do so.

"It paints all Punjabis in a bad light," says Nihalani, sounding unconvincing to anyone who has seen the movie promo.

This must explain why they want the name of the dog in the movie, called Jackie Chan, changed to just Jackie. The fragile sentiments of Indians are famously hurt all the time, whether one eats beef or wears skirts, but for once, not many people seem to be protesting against what seems to be a movie with a strong social message. Scores of Punjabis, including celebrities like Harbhajan Singh, seem happy that there is finally a movie about the rampant drug abuse in Punjab.

After failing at the "it is bad for Punjab" logic, mocked mercilessly by social media, Nihalani’s objections spiralled into wild accusations that Kashyap took money from the Aam Aadmi Party for the movie, presumably so AAP can benefit in the upcoming elections.

Well, apart from there being no proof of this, who funds the movie is not even the point here, is it? The moot point is how the censor board is busy defanging artistic freedoms in this country, hiding behind the readily available shield of hurt sentiments.

What the censor board seems to have a problem with in this case is reality. Cutting Punjab out of a movie about Punjab is not going to change anything on ground, but then, Mr Nihalani does not really care about that as long as we portray a sanskari Punjab in our movies.

The makers of the movie have taken the censor board to court – all power to them – and in time we will get to see the movie, hopefully, called Udta Punjab.

Whether it is as good as Chaubey’s previous movies remains to be seen, but it is sure to do well in the box office in the early weeks thanks to Pahlaj Nihalani, who has given it a flying start.

Last updated: June 08, 2016 | 21:49
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