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Udta Punjab: Indian film censorship has hit an all-time low

Vinayak Chakravorty
Vinayak ChakravortyJun 11, 2016 | 11:21

Udta Punjab: Indian film censorship has hit an all-time low

Once upon a time in Bollywood, drugs were things smuggled by villains downing Vat 69 in garish nightclubs. A functional script let the hero, invariably an honest cop, arrive in disguise to join the (also disguised) heroine for a sexy cabaret before bashing up the bad guys.

For a man who became rich producing films in that Bollywood era of plastic lawlessness, facing dark realism of Punjab’s ugly drug scene on screen (that too with excess cusses added for effect) would seem like culture shock — imagine his plight, he has been made the censor board chief.

Pahlaj Nihalani’s aversion for Udta Punjab is understandable.

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In many countries such stance is deemed dictatorship.

A peculiar thing has been happening in Bollywood, over the past year. The industry is growing up — young filmmakers have shown keenness to bend mainstream rules.

The target audience is also growing up — the positive response that unusual plots see at the multiplexes is a proof. But our censor board chief simply refuses to grow up.

Or, maybe he does not want the Bollywood audience to grow up, and emerge from a cinematic time warp when villains typically named Jibraan and Tyson peddled drugs from their nightclub lair as Raveena Tandon and Akshay Kumar gyrated to Tu cheez badi hai mast mast.

The week gone by has seen blames and insults being traded between Udta Punjab co-producer Anurag Kashyap and Nihalani, which quickly turned the censorship drama into a hideous political imbroglio.

In all this, an awful truth got lost: Indian film censorship has hit an all-time low.

We live in an era when one man has taken it on himself to decide what the nation ought to watch (apparently, he does not even consult other censor board members).

In many countries such stance is deemed dictatorship (Kashyap’s choice of comparison is North Korea).

In India — because we still keep faith in democracy — we will take it to be an unimaginative man’s dumb idea of social reform, unless we go with Kashyap’s hint that Nihalani is serving hidden agenda of his political masters by scuttling the freedom of speech and expression.

Udta Punjab is only the latest to face heat since Nihalani took up as censor board chief about a year ago.

The episode once again underlines his modus operandi: any dialogue that has cuss words or any scene that hints at nudity has to be blindly chopped off, just as references of drugs, alcohol and tobacco must be shunned — never mind the aesthetic demand of a script, and not even if the producer is willing to settle for an A certification.

Incidentally, the Udta Punjab brouhaha gives a new twist to censor madness. Unlike the case of James Bond’s kisses, or filmmakers forced to omit the mention of homosexuality, the makers of Udta Punjab were in for a multiple whammy, according to reports.

The initial censor demand was reportedly for 40 cuts. When Kashyap took the film to a revision committee, the latter is said to have asked for 89 cuts, and omission of any reference to "Punjab".

By Thursday evening, a much-trolled and lambasted Nihalani sent out fresh proposal: 13 cuts for an A certificate.

Time to rename CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) as PBFC: Pahlaj Board of Filmy Cuts.

Last updated: June 11, 2016 | 11:21
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