Objections raised by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) over the film ‘Udta Punjab’, which addresses Punjab’s drug abuse problem, has raised a political storm in the state, with opposition parties gunning for the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for allegedly being behind the censor move. Also, the controversy has further given limelight to an issue that is already a vote plank in the state set to go to polls early next year.
The CBFC has ordered 89 cuts in the film including deletion of references to Punjab not just in the title but the entire film. The makers have decided to approach the high court against that.
At the national level, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal waded into the controversy, taking a stand against the censor board. “Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring #UdtaPunjab will not fix it. The government must accept reality and find solutions,” tweeted Rahul.
Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring #UdtaPunjab will not fix it. The government must accept the reality and find solutions.— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) June 7, 2016
SAD secretary general and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa reacted by saying that this was yet another bid to “defame” Punjabis by “calling them drug addicts”.
Punjab Congress president and former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh said that cuts were “like taking the soul out of the film’s body” . He added, “Instead of trying to suppress the harsh reality of drug scourge in Punjab, the Akali-BJP government should better spend its energies in solving the problem,” he added.
AAP MP Bhagwant Mann alleged the censor Board was acting at the behest of SAD-BJP regime. “It is an attack on freedom of speech and expression in highlighting the extent of drug problem in the state. By indulging in such acts, the state government cannot hide the reality of Punjab that it has pushed the state into a drug menace during its nine-year rule,” Mann added.
Responding to a question on the issue, CM Parkash Singh Badal told reporters in Rupnagar on Tuesday that the state government had nothing to do with it: “How can the state government be held responsible for it when the CBFC is exclusively under the control of the central government?” However, Dhindsa targeted Rahul Gandhi, saying that he should “adopt an open-minded approach to get aware of the seriousness of this issue rather than playing politics on it”.
Punjab BJP chief and Union minister Vijay Sampla, meanwhile, welcomed the CBFC move and was quoted as saying: “Nobody should be allowed to defame Punjab... Why did the producers name the movie ‘Udta Punjab’? Why not ‘Udta Bollywood’? The drug problem is a global issue. Why is one state being singled out?”
From the filmmakers’ side, Anurag Kashyap, one of the producers of the movie, also took to Twitter to express his anguish: “I always wondered what it felt like to live in North Korea... Ab to plane pakadney ki bhi zaroorat nahin (now I don’t even need to catch a plane).” He dubbed censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani a “dictatorial man” while asking politicians to “stay out of my battle”.
I always wondered what it felt like to live in North Korea .. Ab to plane pakadney ki bhi zaroorat nahin..— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) June 6, 2016
Backing the film, director Karan Johar tweeted, “#UdtaPunjab speaks of the reality of our times....censoring reality amounts to delusion… the fraternity has to stand by what’s right.”
#UdtaPunjab speaks of the reality of our times....censoring reality amounts to delusion.....the fraternity has to stand by what's right!!— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) June 6, 2016
Leading man Shahid Kapoor, who plays rockstar-addict Tommy Singh in the movie, said, “Just because the title is ‘Udta Punjab’, everyone is thinking the problem is only in Punjab. First of all, Punjab is in India and any problem in Punjab is India’s problem… Everyone associated with the film believes the issue genuinely concerns the youth and not just Punjabis...”
“There is no film more honest than UDTA PUNJAB... And any person or party opposing it is actually GUILTY of promoting drugs,” further tweeted Kashyap.
“I completely agree”, was AAP chief Kejriwal’s response on Twitter. But it elicited a terse response from the filmmaker: “I request Congress, AAP and other political parties to stay out of my battle. It’s my Rights vs the Censorship. I speak only on my behalf.”
Even before the Udta Punjab controversy broke, the Congress had made drug abuse in Punjab a key poll issue. Gandhi had in 2012 famously announced that 70% of Punjab’s youth were addicts, the party citing a misinterpreted study. In April this year too, the Congress vice-president had said, “The present government in Punjab has been ignoring the drug issue. The drug problem will be solved in months if our party comes to power in the assembly elections.”
Kejriwal and Amarinder have both promised to wipe out the problem in four weeks to four months.
Punjab elections are expected to be a three-cornered fight with the SAD-BJP alliance fighting for survival, the Congress looking for a comeback win, and a confident AAP looking to spread its wings beyond Delhi.
Is drug abuse a prime problem in Punjab? @htTweets— HT Punjab (@HTPunjab) June 7, 2016
(With inputs from New Delhi)