MSG row: Censor board chief quits, alleges govt interference with films

Leela Samson, the censor board chief who resigned in protest, has accused the NDA government of 'coercion' and interfering with her decisions on several films, including PK.
Updated on Jan 17, 2015 08:02 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByZia Haq, New Delhi

Leela Samson, the outgoing chief of Central Board of Film Certification who resigned to protest the clearance to controversial film Messenger of God, has accused the NDA government of "coercion" and interfering with her decisions on several films, including Aamir Khan-starrer PK.

Amid reports that Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's film

MSG: The Messenger of God

had got the nod from an appellate tribunal and would finally be released on January 23, Samson said she had resigned on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Samson accused the information and broadcasting ministry of stifling her functioning by meddling in "every new film being released, big and small".

Samson's term had expired last September but it was extended on a temporary basis every three months since then.

"There was total interference on every film, big and small. A lot of pressure was put on the film PK through various fundamentalist organisations and through panel members of the board to cut scenes," said Samson.

She said the ministry disagreed with audience certifications for most films.

"If we gave an 'U', they would want an A certificate," she said.

Samson said the reasons for her decision to quit include "interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the (information) ministry and having to manage an organisation whose Board has not met for over 9 months as the ministry had 'no funds' to permit the meeting of members".

Samson said the government was trying to interfere in the working of the Censor Board through the information ministry by appointing an "additional charge CEO".

Following Samson's resignation , another member, Ira Bhaskar, too quit from the Censor Board saying , "Things were clearly not in order. There was no meeting in the past one year though it was mandatory for board members to meet every three months."

The government, however, refuted charges of interference in the functioning of the Censor Board levelled by Samson and asserted it has always maintained a distance from the certification process.

Reacting to the CBFC chairperson's statement that she had decided to resign because of "recent cases" of interference in the functioning of the Board, minister of state in the information and broadcasting ministry Rajyavardhan Rathore said the ministry has always "kept a hands away distance" from the Censor Board decisions.

"This latest issue of the chairperson resigning has come to light. I would like to bring to the notice of everyone that the entire Censor Board and all its members were placed by the previous government. None of them have been changed. No additional member has been put in. The extension that the chairperson has been talking of has been granted to the entire Censor Board," Rathore told reporters.

Rathore said the ministry had respected the Censor Board all along and has kept a distance from its decisions.

"The chairperson talks about coercion, we as the government would like to see that SMS, or a letter where she or any other member has been coerced. Then we would take appropriate action," he said.

Rathore added the Censor Board is an independent body and it should behave like one.

Dera spokesperson Aditya Insan confirmed that MSG will release shortly.

"The film has got the nod, but we will get the certificate on Friday (January 16) and won't like to release it at such short notice. That will take at least a week," said Aditya.

The Censor Board had objected to the dera head's alleged portrayal of himself as god in the film which is said to be against the drug menace and other social evils.

There are law and order concerns as the dera head has been a contentious figure among radical Sikhs over his manner of propagation, as manifested in clashes over the years and in recent violence over the film.

The Akal Takht, Sikhism's highest temporal body, is among organisations that have sought a ban on MSG. Flag marches by the police and paramilitary forces were held on Thursday in Bathinda and surrounding areas that have a large dera following.

Watch the trailer of Messenger of God:

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