Over a July weekend extended by a day because of Eid, Rakesh Kumar reportedly took his family out to watch Kick. The Salman Khan film had released the day of the festival, and Kumar, CEO with Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), is fond of Bollywood masala entertainers and comedies, says an agent who has been mediating between filmmakers and CBFC for over a decade now. Ironically, Kick, he adds, was also a film the certification for which Kumar had delayed until its producer-director Sajid Nadiadwala personally visited him.
When previous CBFC CEO Pankaja Thakur’s term concluded in 2013, many were in the reckoning for the job. Kumar, an Indian Railways Personnel Service officer of 1997 batch, bagged it in November, but it wasn’t until January 2014 that he took over the post. Earlier working as the senior divisional personnel officer in Vadodara, he moved into government-provided quarters in the railway colony in upscale Colaba.
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Kumar didn’t take long to make his ambitions clear to those who worked and dealt with him. “He openly expressed displeasure regarding the certifications done by his predecessor,” said CBFC chairperson Leela Samson. And the agent said, “He wanted to hobnob with the industry’s big people. He was also aware how his job would allow him to have a side income. He sent out signals to a few agents very early in his tenure.”
Among the films certified in Kumar’s tenure was Vishesh Films’ May release, Citylights. The screening for the Mumbai panel, which usually takes place at one of the four designated venues — the preview theatres at Eros, Liberty, National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) and Star House — was arranged instead at Sunny Super Sound because the producers thought the other theatres were “too far”. Censor screenings with Kumar, reportedly, were also extended parties where the bill for food/ snacks — to be arranged by the producer — sometimes ran into thousands.
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Members of the film industry say corruption and irregularities are rampant in the CBFC and that the process of getting a film cleared by the censors needs any A-list Bollywood producer to shell out up to Rs 3 lakh. Said Shankar, an authorised agent, “This may be the first instance where a CBFC CEO has been implicated, but similar instances have taken place.” He cited the example of CBFC regional officer (Chennai) Dorairaj Rajasekaran, who was arrested in 2010 on similar charges and eventually suspended by the I&B ministry.
While the allegations against Kumar pertain to one film, the Chattisgarhi Mor Dauki Ke Bihav, for accepting a bribe to clear the film under an emergency certification, there are other examples where the process can be questioned. According to procedure, any film that depicts a living creature or animal has to get a clearance from the Animal Welfare Board India (AWBI, located in Chennai) before it approaches CBFC for certification. If the process is followed, the certification process would take two months at least.
However, records of AWBI on its website show that they granted permission to the Dharma Productions film Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania the very day of the release, July 11. Akshay Kumar film Entertainment doesn’t yet appear in the list, though it was certified and released on August 8.
Shankar blames the complicated and lengthy process of certification for such chinks. “It needs the submission of a whole lot of documents and the prerequisites, such as an NOC from the Animal Welfare Board, which alone would take a month under normal circumstances. Typically, the censorship process would need up to three months before clearing a film. But filmmakers don’t have such time at hand and often have no choice but to resort to shortcuts, which requires them to bribe their way through.”
With Kumar’s arrest, the certification process of the films that are up for release over the next four weeks, including films such as Mary Kom and Finding Fanny, is likely to slow down. Ever since the investigation began, said chairperson Samson, his powers to certify have been suspended.