Two days ago, when he heard the Revising Committee’s decision on suggesting 89 cuts in Udta Punjab, director Abhishek Chaubey wanted to give up the fight. There were all kinds of rumours being circulated against the film and the integrity of the makers was being questioned, as word went about that certain political parties had funded the film in order to colour the 2017 Punjab elections. “I called up Anurag (Kashyap), who has been a friend as well as the film’s producer, and told him let’s go with the cuts because it isn’t worth the fight. But then we decided that even if we lose and release the film with the cuts, let’s fight the battle because we will be fighting for what is right,” said Chaubey.
Ever since the teaser for Udta Punjab came out, unedited and sans any cuts, Chaubey, the film’s 39-year-old director, has maintained a low profile, choosing to remain mum even as the producers battled the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC). On Wednesday, at a press conference organised by The Indian Film & Television Directors Association (IFTDA) to express solidarity with the team of Udta Punjab, Chaubey conveyed the disillusionment and fear that a large number in the film industry were going through: uncertainty over their own films’ releases, and the constant battle with the CBFC.
It was a rare occasion when many members from the industry, came together to speak out against the “dictatorship” of CBFC chairperson, Pahlaj Nihalani, who has been in office for the last one year. Present were the film’s producers Kashyap and his partners in Phantom Films Madhu Mantena and Vikas Bahl, Balaji Motion Pictures’ Ekta Kapoor, actors Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, filmmaker brothers Mukesh and Mahesh Bhatt, directors Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, Rahul Dholakia, Sudhir Mishra, and Satish Kaushik, among others.
Some makers have been constantly battling censorship of their films and many have been vocal on the subject. When MoS I&B Ministry Rajyavardhan Rathore informally met the members of the industry in Mumbai over the issue, most of them were present and were hopeful of a change. However, in the interim, little has changed and the controversies have only piled up while the (Shyam) Benegal Committee report, constituted by the government to look into the functioning of the CBFC, waits to be addressed.
Expressing his displeasure on the goings-on, Kashyap also openly targetted the I&B Ministry, saying, “Each time a new I&B minister is appointed in any government, it gives us a lot of hope. We think this person will take interest in us. I was especially hopeful when Rajyavardhan Rathore met us and assured us that things will be sorted.”
Kashyap went on to claim that Nihalani has been lying to the press that the makers of Udta Punjab didn’t collect the letter with the suggested changes by the Revising Committee on Monday. “In fact, we sent him a notice on Tuesday and we have a signed receipt from CBFC stating that it has been received,” he said.
Reacting to the statements made by Nihalani in the press, where he has accused the makers of Udta Punjab being funded by a political party, Mukesh Bhatt, as the president of the Film & Television Producers Guild of India, demanded an apology from the CBFC chairperson and also his removal from the post. CBFC member Ashoke Pandit echoed the same sentiments when he condemned Nihalani’s allegations about the political funding, and demanded an apology.
For now, the makers are waiting to see if the Appellate can review the film in the next few days and have kept all decisions regarding the film’s release on hold.