Censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani is again in the line of fire for ordering numerous cuts and even suggesting dropping all references to Punjab from Shahid Kapoor-starrer Udta Punjab, a dark drama on the drug menace the border state is battling. In his first reaction since the controversy Nihalani speaks to Subhash K Jha, exclusively for HT:
You are once again being condemned, this time for ordering 89 cuts in Udta Punjab or is it 90?
Who has counted these cuts? The producers of Udta Punjab have not even implemented any cuts in the film as yet. So how does the media know about the number of cuts? It’s like doing a sex-determination test for an unborn baby. It’s unethical and illegal. And, just who are these people screaming against the CBFC?
Anurag Kashyap for one.
It's my fight Vs a dictatorial man sitting there operating like an oligarch in his constituency of censor board, that's my North Korea— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) June 7, 2016
I haven’t met him (Anurag Kashyap, the film’s co-producer) even once about Udta Punjab. We’ve never spoken on this matter. In the past when a film produced by him -- NH 10 -- was in censor trouble, I did my best to help him follow the censor guidelines. When there was objection to his title Bombay Velvet, we at the CBFC passed the title to ensure Mr Kashyap’s creative urges do not get suppressed. Now when he is not getting his way with the CBFC, I’m the biggest villain in the creative world. So be it. Mr Kashyap is like a child being denied a toy. He loves to make a noise every time a film directed or produced by him is released. And since he makes a lot of movies, he also makes a lot of noise. I believe he has called me an extremely egotistical man. A lot of people feel the same about him.
Kashyap feels you run the CBFC like your personal fiefdom.
Says who? Ashoke Pandit (censor board member opposing the cuts)? The man who Kashyap hails as a sensible voice in the CBFC just because Pandit is opposing the CBFC’s decision to not allow Punjab to be vilified in Udta Punjab. It’s like that filmmaker who thinks the only critic who understands his film is the one who praises the film.
Could you tell us what exactly are the cuts that the CBFC wants?
Tell me something. Do all those TV anchors and their panellists who are shouting down the CBFC and calling me all sorts of names understand what they are talking about? Do they know the issues involved? Learned panellists on TV discussions, where everyone screams everyone else down, say if today Mother India or Dilli Ka Thug was to be made, we’d object to India and Dilli. Sounds very clever. But, these were stories of one individual. Udta Punjab claims to mirror the truth about the whole of Punjab. According to the film, 70% of the youngsters are drug addicts. Where did they get this figure from? The film’s dialogue explicitly states Punjab is banjar (barren) land and the people are kanjar (wayward, promiscuous). Tell me is this not vilifying the whole of Punjab?
But the makers of Udta Punjab have put a disclaimer, saying it’s a work of fiction?
What is the disclaimer worth when after claiming to be a work of fiction the film proceeds to name every major town in Punjab from Amritsar to Tarn Taran as a drug den? How is it a work of fiction when you are naming real towns from Punjab? When Kashyap and his gang of Wasseypur calls me egotistical and someone called Suhel Seth feels I have feeble intellect, I’d like them to use their highly developed intelligence to understand that the CBFC is not controlled by me. There’s a committee which I head. Yes, I’ve the final authority to ask for changes before certification. It’s an authority given to me by the government. I repeat for the umpteenth time -- I am only following the guidelines. And, I’ll continue to do so even if intellectuals like Kashyap and Seth abuse me for doing my job.
So what happens to Udta Punjab? Does it release on time on June 17?
The CBFC has never stopped any film from being released on time. When Udta Punjab came to us for certification, we found the film carpeted with the filthiest abuses. Almost every line that Shahid Kapoor speaks is filled with the most explicit abuses and gaalis (expletives) that even I had never heard. We said ok let him abuse when his character is under the influence of drugs. But, why should he talk like that when normal? Who speaks like that in everyday conversations? We’ve even allowed Alia Bhatt to abuse. But we couldn’t allow Punjab to be damned and labeled a drug haven.
Kashyap says he won’t take a single cut.
FYI I have fought the UPA more on censorship issues than the NDA. But you know what , there was no Nihalani then. So the paid trolls can FO— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) June 7, 2016
Let him fight it out. Then don’t blame us for the delay in release. It wasn’t Kashyap who came to us for censoring. Jeetendra ji on behalf of Balaji Telefilms and film director Abhishek Choubey came for the censoring. We suggested the cuts, which they agreed to take and promised to return after making the cuts. But, instead Anurag Kashyap decided to go to the media. He wants to know why we haven’t given him a formal letter about the cuts. It’s because the film is with the revising committee. Until they come to a decision, we cannot issue a formal letter.
Will the film be allowed to be called Udta Punjab?
All those who are talking about creative freedom should first see the film. How are they discussing Udta Punjab without seeing the context in which we have suggested the cuts?
Are you under pressure from the government to stop Udta Punjab?
Let me make this very clear. There is no political pressure whatsoever on the censor board regarding Udta Punjab. The CBFC is being allowed to do its job. Anurag Kashyap approached Mr Arun Jaitley but it was made very clear that the government does not interfere in censorship. If Kashyap and his colleagues have their creative freedom, the CBFC, too, has its freedom to do its job. You do your job. Let us do our job.
(Subhash K Jha is a veteran film journalist)
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