The Central Board of Film Certification, or the censor board, has developed a penchant to be in the news for the wrong reasons. The latest is its ‘suggestions’ to the makers of the Hindi movie Udta Punjab — an Abhishek Chaubey film, starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor, which extensively deals with the drug menace in Punjab.
Various studies and media reports have highlighted Punjab’s drug addiction and abuse menace. According to a United Nations estimate, published in Addiction, the world drug abuse figure is 0.2% and the corresponding figure for India is 0.7% — Punjab’s is about 1.2%.
Clearly, Punjab’s drug problem is an inconvenient truth, especially for the Shiromani Akali Dal-led state government. Punjab is poll-bound in less than a year and the Congress and AAP are highlighting this as a failure of the incumbent Badal government. Udta Punjab finds itself caught in this political crossfire.
Reports suggest that the board’s revising committee has asked for the removal of all references to Punjab and that the movie be set in a fictional milieu. Earlier the board had ‘recommended’ 89 cuts to give the movie a screening certificate.
The Udta Punjab episode should not be seen in isolation — it is the latest in a string of events where views that do not conform to the administration’s narrow spectrum of understanding are stifled. The Shahid Kapoor-starrer is only the latest to run into trouble with the CBFC. In the recent past, films like Deadpool, Spectre, Fifty Shades of Grey, Angry Indian Goddesses, Unfreedom, MSG, PK, Chayam Poosiya Veedu (Malayalam) among others have been at the receiving end of the board’s displeasure.
British essayist George Orwell rightly said that “threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen”.
The film’s co-producer Anurag Kashyap has compared the censor board’s demand to that of the restrictions in North Korea. While that may be a bit exaggerated, if creative freedoms are curtailed and the bandwidth for criticism reduces with every passing day we’ll soon cease to be the democracy we are meant to be.
States often feel threatened when asked discomfiting questions — but it’s foolish to blame the mirror for the reflection.
The censor board, under its chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani, should withhold its directorial pangs. It should stick to its duty of certifying movies and stop being the annoying backseat driver guiding Indian cinema.