Accusations, politicking in the air as Udta Punjab row gets bigger
A Bollywood movie on drug abuse in Punjab turned into a full-blown legal and political battle on Wednesday with the filmmakers moving court over censored parts, which Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said were done at the BJP’s bidding.
Barbs engulfed the bitter censorship row over Udta Punjab after censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani suggested that filmmaker Anurag Kashyap took money from Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to make the movie, a charge the party dismissed promptly.
The Delhi chief minister said Nihalani’s allegation proved he had acted against Udta Punjab, a dark drama on drug menace in the state, under “instructions” from the BJP.
“Nihalani’s statement makes it amply clear he has stopped the film on BJP’s instructions … What else could one expect in the Modi regime,” he said.
AAP has emerged as a strong player in Punjab that goes to the polls next year and wants to turn drug abuse into a political campaign, accusing the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government of promoting the illicit trade.
Besides the BJP, Kejriwal’s party targeted Nihalani as well, calling him a puppet of the Prime Minister.
“He used to make third-grade films. He considers Prime Minister Narendra Modi his action hero and is close to the BJP. But for that he would not even have been in the censor board, forget being its chief,” AAP leader Dileep Pandey said.
For their part, the Akalis stuck to the demand for a ban on the movie, saying the film distorted Punjab’s image.
“Artistes should be role models and movies should inspire people but this film is hurting sentiments of people which is unacceptable ... some political parties want to defame Punjab,” said Prem Singh Chandumajra, the party parliamentarian for Anandpur Sahib.
The BJP-led Centre refused to be drawn into the controversy, saying a court order prevents it from intervening in the censor board’s decision.
In 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed the Union government’s appeal to retain powers to review decisions of the censor board or an appellate tribunal for film clearances.
“I completely reject it that the government has any role or intervened to stop its release. AAP survives on controversies. It creates controversies for political purpose,” Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.
He said the Akali Dal-BJP government in the state was doing an “excellent work” and Punjab has no drug problem as depicted in the movie.
Akali rival Dal Khalsa said the drug menace is a harsh reality and it has been plaguing the state since before the Akalis came to power and even when Punjab was ruled by the Congress. “But the Akalis’ approach towards the problem is like a pigeon closing its eyes on seeing a cat, thinking she doesn’t exist,” said party spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh.
He said Udta Punjab should be released without cuts, which is unlikely because the censors recommended an “A” certificate for the film with at least 13 cuts.
Filmmaker Kashyap dragged the censor board to the Bombay high court, saying Nihalini demanded 89 cuts to the Shahid Kapoor-starrer and even asked him to drop the name of the state from the title. The petition will be taken up on Thursday while the film is slated for release on June 17.
While the 43-year-old filmmaker is seeking legal redress, the censor chief, in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, hit back and said the film was littered with expletives and vilified Punjab. “Mr Kashyap is like a child being denied a toy,” he said.
Asked about Nihalani’s allegations that he took money from AAP, Kashyap said: “You really want me to answer that? I don’t know what to say. I have not taken money. I wish someone would give me money so that I can make more films. I have lots of ideas.”
As the duo slugged it out, a more hostile slugfest was fought among the political parties. The Congress and AAP, which fancies its chances in the northern state, criticised the board. The SAD, an NDA partner in power in Punjab for nine years, says the film tarnishes the image of the state and its people.
At a Congress briefing, party spokesman Ajoy Kumar said the controversy is the BJP’s and RSS’s “standard operating procedure”.
“By nature, the RSS and BJP are against freedom of expression. That is in their DNA. They continue to terrorise people who speak against them,” he said.
(With inputs from HTC Amritsar, Chandigarh and agencies)
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