Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahlaj Nihalani has dismissed filmmakers accusing him of wielding the scissors and curbing their freedom of expression as “attention seekers” and “habitual complainers”.
Nihalani, whose year-long tenure as CBFC chief has been rocked by controversies, told Hindustan Times in a telephone interview that producers who complain against the censor board do so for getting “free publicity”. “Their motive is clear, they want free publicity. They take their fight to the media to create news,” he said.
The censor board chief recently locked horns with filmmaker Hansal Mehta over certification of the trailer of his upcoming film Aligarh, based on the life of Ramchandra Siras, a professor of Aligarh Muslim University who lost his job on account of his sexual orientation and who later committed suicide. While Mehta has questioned the A-certification given to Aligarh’s trailer, Nihalani has retaliated that filmmakers are failing to adhere to the norms of censorship.
“Film producers who are complaining about certification now have done so in the past as well. They don’t follow the guidelines, then create trouble and go to court,” he said, without taking names.
Slammed for trying to impose a ban on the use of cuss words in films and more recently for shortening the length of kissing scenes in the James Bond movie Spectre, Nihalani said as a filmmaker he had no run-ins with the censor board because he understood the nuances of both filmmaking as well as self-censorship.
“In my long career, I have never faced problems with the censor board while I was producing films. I fully understood what people wanted and had knowledge of the guidelines. I never created any controversies and all my movies passed smoothly,” he said.
Allegations against the Censor Board and the perception that it forces filmmakers to toe its line are exaggerated, he said. “Indian cinema has turned 100 and all kinds of movies have been made. If 1-2% of the producers face problems, you cannot say the whole industry is facing problems. In the past one year, almost 70% of the movies that came to us were passed without a single cut.”
Nihalani also denied that he has written to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to ensure film trailers released on the internet are vetted and certified. There were reports that following his intervention the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) had asked filmmakers of Kya Kool Hai Hum and Mastizaade to remove trailers from the internet, which had not been certified by the censor board.
“I will make suggestions to the government directly, when I have to, as I don’t want to be seen interfering in the work of the Shyam Benegal committee that has been appointed. I have experience and I know what is good for producers,” he said.