Mishearing the word ‘pitch’ for ‘b***h’ and having it removed, censoring shots of a character drinking juice and soda because they believed it to be ‘liquor’; the CBFC’s decisions are often controversial, and as it turns out, just as arbitrary.
In an in-depth interview conducted by the film website Birth.Movies.Death’s Siddhant Adlakha, which ended with him getting kicked out, the bizarre inner workings of the Pahlaj Nihalani-run censor board are laid bare.
The interview, which Adlakha describes as ‘by far the weirdest I’ve conducted’, Nihalani says that he doesn’t watch a single movie that is sent for certification, and instead, passes them on to an examining committee. In the 2 years that he has been in charge of the CBFC, Nihalani says that he has seen only about 30 films in an official capacity.
In fairness, he does say that he ’can’t see any movie (as per rules)’, but then, he also admits to having seen those 30.
Examples of the board’s odd decision-making policies add to the confusion. Often, films are ‘cleared’ with a rating mere days before their scheduled release, which doesn’t allow producers any room to appeal to a revising committee. Instead, they are forced to comply to the board’s ‘recommendations’.
“When it has been cut, the producer has agreed. So he knows the thing, otherwise he would’ve gone (to appeal),” says Nihalani, implying that the producer’s lack of options (and time) and compliance with the board’s directives is a sign of guilt.
But then, Adlakha points out some instances of censorship that are strange even by the CBFC’s standards. In the recent xXx: Return of Xander Cage, a scene in which Vin Diesel’s lead character drinks cranberry juice and club soda was asked to be removed because the board believed that Diesel’s teetotaller character was sipping ‘liquor’ instead.
When the recent Jennifer Aniston film Office Christmas Party is brought up in the interview, the mere mention of the word ‘vibrator’ makes Nihalani uncomfortable, says Adlakha. In the film, the word ‘dildo’ is muted out, only to reappear later in the same conversation, less than 3 seconds later. In the same film, the phrase ‘one second’ was also muted, presumably by accident.
Nihalani brings up La La Land as an example of the board’s progressive ways. “For La La Land, we were giving them the U/A certificate. He (the producer) said “No, I want the A certificate!”’.
Here is the letter that the representative sent to the CBFC:
As you can see, Viacom only agreed to an A certificate because they didn’t have the time, nor the resources to make the necessary cuts. La La Land is by no means an ‘adult’ film, a fact that Nihalani agrees with, and yet, it is illegal for a minor to watch that film in India.
In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a film that was no stranger to controversy abroad as well, but in India, the phrase ‘sales pitch’ was muted, possibly because someone misheard it for another, similar sounding swear word.
Nihalani also brings up the recent Ranveer Singh-starrer Befikre, from which he admits to cutting ‘at least forty or fifty kisses’.
But perhaps the most telling statements he made in the interview are these: “The first thing is, sanskaar in our country is valuable, and there’s a respect for sanskaar”.
“I don’t see any (films), I just make them go through the examining committee. I don’t see a single movie, because as per rules I can’t see any movie. Okay? In two years, only one hundred and fifty movies have gone on to the revising committee. Out of those one hundred and fifty movies, I must have seen thirty.”
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