Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which is infamous for forestalling films’ releases, has courted controversy yet again as it has raised issue against an upcoming documentary on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The board, led by Pahlaj Nihalani, has held back the certificate for An Insignificant Man, saying that the makers need to get an NOC (No Objection Certificate) from not only Kejriwal but also former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to have the film in theatres.
Also read | Arvind Kejriwal found his biopic An Insignificant Man interesting, say makers
The movie documents the journey of Aam Aadmi Party
from a movement to a political party along with the rise of Kejriwal. It has used footages from the AAP campaign during the elections and also features speeches by Congress and BJP
leaders from the time. An Insignificant Man, directed by Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka, has already been screened at various international film festivals and also garnered accolades.
But now, in the form of CBFC, stands a big hurdle in front of the makers to get their film released in India. When indianexpress.com
spoke to Nihalani about it, the CBFC chairperson had this to say. “Whenever a film is made on a celebrity or any (public figure) we definitely demand an NOC. So, whosoever the concerned people are in the film, we have asked the makers to get an NOC from them. When they shot for the film, they must have got it from them (AAP). They must have taken permission from them before shooting. Now, even if things are in public domain, still the makers must have written a script out of it, there will be a storyline combining all the things. So, they need to get an NOC.”
Vinay and Khushboo have challenged this very demand of the CBFC, legality of which is under doubt. The directors spoke about it to us.
When did you send the film for certification and how did the whole process came about?
Khushboo: We submitted it in February. The examining committee of the CBFC watched it and told us that it was referring the film to the review committee but they didn’t give us any reason for doing so. We were told Pahlaj Nihalani had referred it to the review committee. The review committee then watched it, in the presence of Nihalani, and we were told that we will have to get NOCs from Arvind Kejriwal
, Narendra Modi
and Sheila Dikshit, otherwise we will not get the certificate. We were also told to beep out references to the various political parties.
Weren’t you prepared for an obstacle? Considering the CBFC keeps having issue with film or the other over different things and yours is a political documentary.
Khushboo: We didn’t expect it would come to something like this. People around us had also said that we wouldn’t face any issue and would get the certificate in two weeks or maximum by a month. Here, it’s been four months already and looks like it’s going to take a lot more months now.
How did you respond to this demand? What was your immediate reaction?
Vinay: When we got the letter stating that the CBFC was referring the film to the review committee, I went to meet Nihalani in his office. But he said he is not obliged to give any answer and I was shown the door. After the review committee we got the letter about the demand for the NOC. We weren’t in India then. We then spoke to our lawyers. We also wrote the back. We will soon make those letters public. We even spoke to some filmmakers about it.
Whom did you speak to and what did they have to say about it?
Khushboo: We spoke to Anand Patwardhan, whose films in the past have been banned by the CBFC, and he told us that the board couldn’t ask us to get an NOC. That’s illegal. That’s not its job. There were others too, who agreed with him and everyone has encouraged us to move forward with our argument.
CBFC’s argument is that because you are made a film on a public figure, you need his or her permission. But wasn’t the AAP knowing that you were filming its journey?
Vinay: They knew it all along. We used to travel to places they used to campaign. We have the real footage. We told them that we were documenting them. We also showed the film to Arvind Kejriwal after it was made.
What was his reaction?
Khushboo: His reaction was quite different. He said, “It’s interesting.” So, a man watches a film on him and the documentary doesn’t favour him in any way. So, to have him react to it like that was quite interesting.
So, do you now plan to talk to him about the obstacle the film is facing?
Vinay: No, we won’t. There’s no question of getting an NOC from anyone of them. We are going to fight this. The footage that we have used is all in public domain, the speeches and the campaigns, everything has been shown on news channels. So, why do we need an NOC? If someone has a problem with the film, take us to court. But let it get released, let people watch it. Why is CBFC preempting that? Its job is to certify films, not be the watchdog for politicians.
Despite your film having received critical acclaim across the world, back home you are struggling to get it to theatres. How does that affect your thought process? Does it act as a deterrent especially because you are a first-time filmmakers?
Vinay: CBFC doesn’t want political films to be made. It wants people to continue making those candyfloss films. This way people will not be encouraged to make movies about real issues. It sets a wrong precedent for everyone, especially aspiring filmmakers. They won’t try because they will know that their films will eventually get stuck. When our film was screened at international film festivals, people were surprised that there was such a realistic and details account of a political movement in our country. That’s a huge thing. It’s sad that our local audience is not getting to see that.
An Insignificant Man, produced by Anand Gandhi of Ships of Theseus fame, received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and apparently got sold out screenings at Busan International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival.