Amid heated protests over the movie Padmavati, senior BJP leader and former I&B minister L K Advani is learnt to have said at a Parliamentary committee meeting that only the Censor board had the mandate to decide whether a film could be screened in India or not. “Let the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) do its job,” Advani is said to have suggested at a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, while suggesting that the panel’s proceedings were pointless.
The committee met on Thursday to question Padmavati director Sanjay Leela Bhansali on various aspects of the movie. On the same day, CBFC chairman Prasoon Joshi told another parliamentary panel — the Lok Sabha Committee on Petitions — that he had not watched the film yet.
Bhansali was asked three key questions: Can a filmmaker depict the banned practice of ‘Sati’? Can a film be released abroad before it is cleared for screening in India? Is a selective media screening of a movie without a CBFC clearance fair and ethical?
According to sources, Bhansali admitted that it was a mistake to have shared parts of the film with the media before CBFC certification. Some of the other questions put to Bhansali were: How could you assume that the movie could be released on December 1 when you applied to the CBFC on November 11 (as per the Cinematography Act, the CBFC may take 68 days before certifying a movie)? Was the selective media screening an act to influence the CBFC? How could the controversial film reach the UK when it had not been cleared here?
Seeking time to submit written response to several questions, Bhansali told the members that the film was based on a poem (by Malik Mohammad Jayasi), sources said. It’s learnt that the panel decided to give the director “at least two weeks” before deciding on whether to call him again.
Apart from Advani, the 30-member standing committee on IT, headed by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, comprises members of both Houses, including Congress MP Raj Babbar and BJP MPs Paresh Rawal and Hema Malini among others. The committee took cognizance of the issue as part of its study — “Film Industry: Problems and challenges”.
The Lok Sabha panel took up the issue following a representation by two BJP MPs from Rajasthan — C P Joshi (Chittorgarh) and Om Birla (Kota) — who wanted a ban to be imposed on the film’s release.
Bhansali and Joshi appeared before the standing committee, while the CBFC chief deposed before the Lok Sabha panel as well. Joshi told the Lok Sabha committee that the process of certifying the movie was underway, said sources. Explaining the procedure, Joshi is learnt to have said that a regional committee reviews the film, with the central committee stepping in thereafter, if needed.
Joshi also informed the panel that the CBFC would appoint a team of experts to look at the content of the film, said sources. Responding to a query from members, Joshi is learnt to have said that the promos and songs of Padmavati had been certified.
Detailing the proceedings of the IT panel, sources said chairman Anurag Thakur moved to put Bhansali at ease by making it clear that the panel only wanted to understand the issue and was with the director. Trinamool MP Prasun Banerjee is said to have described as abominable the threats issued to an elected Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) who expressed her solidarity with the makers of a film.
According to sources, Virendra Kashyap, BJP MP from Shimla, asked Bhansali if he had created the controversy for publicity. Bhansali responded that during his 30 years as a filmmaker he had never stooped to such a level, said sources. Babbar, who is also an actor, is learnt to have said that the movie’s making involved an investment of around Rs 200 crore, and that its release should be allowed.
The Lok Sabha panel chairman Bhagat Singh Koshiyari said, “Two MPs had given petitions before us. We have got detailed views of the government and CBFC. The secretary to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, too, has deposed before us. The date of the next meeting has not been fixed yet but hearings will go on.”
Later, a statement issued by Anurag Thakur’s office said: “Taking a stand to bring an end to the controversy, Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur-led Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, has invited Secretary of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification, along with Director of the film Sanjay Leela Bhansali, to present their views on the controversy surrounding the movie.”
The statement quoted Thakur as saying: “How and why did this divide and controversy erupt… A movie is meant for entertainment, not for creating a tensed atmosphere across the country. This meeting has been called upon to discuss all these issues at length, bring all the relevant stakeholders at a common platform to eventually reach a consensus.” The statement was titled: “Anurag Thakur takes up an arbitrator role to resolve Padmavati controversy.”