Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday accused censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani of censoring Udta Punjab, a film about the drug menace in the state, on the direction of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But Nihalani, who heads the Central Board of Film Certification, alleged earlier that he had heard that co-producer Anurag Kashyap had “taken money from the AAP” to show Punjab in a bad light through the film. He said this was the talk in the industry.
“Pahlaj Nihalani’s statement (linking Kashyap with the AAP) makes it amply clear he has stopped the film on BJP’s instructions,” Kejriwal, the chief of Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), tweeted.
With Punjab due for assembly elections in January next year, the controversy over the film’s censorship has assumed political overtones.
The AAP, which fancies its chances in the northern state in the upcoming polls, and the Congress criticised the board. They also accused Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance of exercising influence to “censor” the movie. The SAD, in power in Punjab for nine years, says the film tarnishes the image of the state and its people.
The makers of Udta Punjab - Kashyap’s Phantom Films and Balaji Motion Pictures - have reportedly been asked by the censor board to make several cuts to get a release certificate. Kashyap also dragged the censor board to the Bombay high court on Wednesday over the controversy surrounding his film.
The 43-year-old filmmaker accused the censor board of operating like an oligarch for ordering the cuts prompting Nihalani’s counter. Kashyap, however, said they were waiting for an “official letter” from the board.
The producers have asked for a copy of the order passed by the censor board’s review committee on May 3, purportedly suggesting cuts in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer and removal of all references to Punjab.
The censor chief, in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, hit back at Kashyap, saying the film was littered with expletives and vilified Punjab.
“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,” Nihalani said.
Nihalani denied allegations that he was under pressure from the Centre to censor the film. The board was being allowed to do its job, he said.
‘Govt has no role’
Kashyap also dragged in the information and broadcasting ministry in the controversy, saying he got no help from it.
As the row escalated, information and broadcasting ministry officials asserted the certification process is independent and said that court verdicts have made it clear that the government does not have much role in it.
“The process is quite clear that filmmakers can approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) in case they are not satisfied with the decisions of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Court guidelines also make it clear that in such matters it is not for the I&B ministry to take matters into its own hands,” an official said when contacted.
Official sources cited a judgement in the matter Union of India vs KM Shankarappa given by a double bench of Supreme Court in November 2000, where it felt that a provision which gave the Centre powers to intervene and review matters pending before the certification board or the appellate tribunal was a travesty of the rule of law.
It is very clear that a secretary or minister cannot sit in appeal or revision over decisions of FCAT, which consists of experts and decides matters quasi-judicially, they said.
Pointing to the court judgement, they added that at the highest, the government itself may apply to the tribunal for a review if circumstances so warrant, but the government would be bound by the ultimate decision of the tribunal, they added.
Officials, however, added that the ministry is in the process of streamlining the film certification process and the first part of recommendations submitted by the Shyam Benegal committee are already being examined.
Seeking to dismiss apprehensions that the tribunal may take long to clear films, the officials referred to another film ‘Raman Raghav 2’, which was directed by Kashyap, and said that it came before FCAT on May 29 and an order was passed on May 31.
(With IANS and PTI inputs)