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Toe The Line Or Perish

The point here is the way Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) tried to stall and sabotage the release of Udta Punjab

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In 2015, Gajendra Chauhan was appointed chairman of FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), an institution of global repute. Without getting into his credentials (played Yudhishthira in Mahabharata, and is now a BJP member) or lack thereof (roles in C grade films like Khuli Khidki, Jungle love, Vasnaa, etc.), suffice to say that the man displayed enormous grit to hold on to his post. Clinging to it even as the students protesting his appointment were being arrested. The very students he was supposed to nurture.

The same year, the Children’s Film Society of India saw Mukesh Khanna (Bheeshma Pitahmah in Mahabharata, Shaktiman in Shaktiman, campaigned for Narendra Modi calling him the Shaktiman of Gujarat) as its chairman.

Finally, the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) saw the now (in)famous Pahlaj Nihalani as its chairperson. Nihalani had made promotional videos for Modi during his election campaign — ‘Har har Modi ghar ghar Modi’. He has also made films with lewd songs alluding to the male anatomy (Khada hai Khada hai…)

It is difficult not to view these events through a saffron-tinted prism. Does the government want the best man for the job in or does it want ‘its man’ in critical positions, someone who shares the same politico-cultural ideology and agenda, is the question to ask.

That inquiry brings us to Udta Punjab and the concept of cultural fascism. That CBFC had unwarranted objections to the content of Udta Punjab is not the point being stressed here, neither is the fact that the role of CBFC is to certify not censor. The point here is the way CBFC tried to stall and sabotage the release of Udta Punjab.

Lawfully, a filmmaker has an option to approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) if he is dissatisfied with the list of cuts recommended by CBFC. Without an official list of cuts the tribunal cannot decide on a film. This is standard bureaucratic procedure.

The reason CBFC delayed sending the list to FCAT was diabolical. The judge who was to decide the fate of the film was to go on a holiday soon. The objective was to stall the release of the film causing financial loss to the producers who had dared to defend their freedom of expression.

Soon Udta Punjab became a raging national issue and got vociferous support from both within and outside the film industry across all media platforms.
As the release date came closer, the drama heightened. The worried producers approached the Bombay High Court for relief. The court cleared the film. It further instructed CBFC to hand over the certificate to the producers in two days.

The producers had emphatically and legally won the battle against CBFC but barely two days before the film’s release PILs were filed against it in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court. Thankfully, both PILs were shot down.

Then, as thousands celebrated the victory, the censor copy of Udta Punjab was leaked online. The producers on a war footing did manage to take the film off some of the sites but the damage was done.

Udta Punjab was shown on a cable channel in Puducherry a day before its official release. Links from sites still carrying the film are being circulated freely.

The cyber crime cell is probing the matter and the producers are contemplating legal action against CBFC. This act of hostility and intimidation is unprecedented. To me the message is loud and clear. Toe the line or perish.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Ajay Bahl

The author is a Filmmaker

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