The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) works in mysterious ways its blunders to perform. After wielding the scissors, or in the case of the CBFC under the redoubtable Pahlaj Nihalani, garden shears rather too liberally, its attention has now fallen to the need to preserve the image of certain states and also discrepancies in pronounciation. So, if you plan to make a realistic film depicting a social problem which has been written about ad nauseam in the popular media, be assured that the eagle eye, not to mention sensibilities of the censor board, may weigh you in the balance and find you wanting.
Abhishek Chaubey, the maker of Udta Punjab , which deals with among other things the growing problem of drug abuse in Punjab found out that his film did not meet the exacting standards of the board when it said that the very word Punjab was not appropriate for his film, not to mention the language of the film. The ruling Akalis seem to be in agreement with this, complaining long and loud that the film showed up the state in a poor light. So, said the wise censor board, the film must remove all references to Punjab and set itself in a fictitious land. The poor film maker will have to reshoot the film and set it in a Panglossian background where the rivers flow with honey and milk and clear eyed beauties dance to the hypnotic beat of the bhangra as is the norm in the Punjab as we all know so well. As for pronounciation, the censor board decided that a Malayali director Joshy Joseph could not get his tongue around the name Mahashweta Devi, though the great writer herself found no problem with it. But, then what does she know about her own name?
Why take the trouble to reshoot films? The censor board, under the guidance of Nihalani, whose signal contribution to film making has been an paean of praise on video to the PM, something even the none-too-modest Mr Modi was embarrassed about, could expand his canvas a bit and become both the scriptwriter, director, producer, actor and censor. This way, we can be spared of all the trouble of slipping anything that remotely resemblances good cinema past him. Of course, a lot of people would be out of work, but the pristine image of India, a land where no one swears, no sex, please we are Indians, there are no social evils and everyone speaks with a cut glass accent would be preserved.
Funny, we thought that the censor board was supposed to issue certifications for films, in order that they are age-appropriate. In the UK, a film can be released without certification as long as it is made clear that this is so, the rest is left to the discretion of the viewer which horror of all horrors cannot be the case with our fragile people if Mr Nihalani has his way. In the US, the home of Hollywood, where the best and brightest of our stars aspire to act, the Motion Pictures Association of America simply rates films on which age group they are suitable for. They do not, as in the British system, worry about whether some community, state, religion or leader will be offended.
Udta Punjab simply tells a story as it is. If you feel offended by the depiction of Punjab, don’t see it. But the greatest insult to the filmgoer is the idea that the censor board can dictate what might, mind you might, offend our delicate sensibilities. Well, to the majority of people, what is offensive is the presumptuousness Mr Nihalani, that he and his board knows better than us what we might like to see, that they know better than an acclaimed director how to make a film and when it comes to pronounciation, they will set the benchmark for tone and tenor.