A flustered Sushma Swaraj, then information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, had even refused to spell out what suggestions the then Censor Board chief Vijay Anand had given to ‘modernise’ Indian cinema.
It was July 2002. And Anand, known for his highly-acclaimed films like Guide and Teesri Manzil, had given a written proposal to Swaraj to allow X-rated films in special theatres in India.
Although he travelled across the country to take feedbacks before offering such liberty to Indian cinemas, those suggestions cut no ice with the first NDA government. At a press conference, Swaraj had said, “I am even ashamed of telling publicly what his proposals are.” Barely six months into the job, Anand resigned from his position.
From the ‘neo-liberal’ Anand to the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Pahlaj Nihalani—the NDA’s stint with its controversial chairpersons of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), considered an obsolete body by many observers, turned a full circle in 2016.
The present chief Nihalani’s outlook, taunted as “sanskari” on social media, forced the NDA government on Friday to set up a body under one of India’s most prominent filmmaker, Shyam Benegal. Benegal has been asked to provide a “holistic framework and enable those tasked with the work of certification of films to discharge their responsibilities keeping in view this framework.”
Whether the newest panel’s suggestions are actually translated into reality or it faces the same future as many panel reports—gather dust in government offices—is yet to be seen. But censor board has often courted controversies.
During the UPA regimewere ‘interesting moments’. Noted actor Sharmila Tagore had become the censor board chief. Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s second film—Rang De Basanti—came for the certification. The film’s storyline evolved around a few youngsters who planned to avenge their friend’s death due to an allegedly faulty fighter plane.
As the topic dealt with defence establishment, Tagore took no chances and invited then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee for a special screening to decide if the film needs to go to the chopping board. Mukherjee, with little interest in Hindi films, sat through the first half at the capital’s Mahadev Road auditorium. At the interval, he stood up and famously told Tagore and actor Aamir Khan, “As the defense minister, my job is to protect the country, not to certify films”and left the auditorium.
Anand wanted to take Indian films to an entirely new, liberal level. Nihalani thought of taking it back by a few decades when flowers used to be shaken to demonstrate physical proximity between the hero and the heroine. The producer of Aankhen and Ilzaam didn’t even allow James Bond to smooch his heroines for more than a few seconds.
Another CBFC chief Leela Samson quit last year after the controversial film “MSG” was cleared for release despite objections raised by her board.
Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken it upon himself to change the way the Censor Board works. “In sync with the vision of Hon’ble Prime Minister, a committee has been constituted…” read the government press release on Friday that is widely seen as a censure for the Nihalani’s Censor Board.
Between Anand and Nihalani—possibly the two extreme points of view, NDA is still trying to strike a balance.