For the past two weeks, Udta Punjab has been flying high on controversy. The film, due for release on June 17 and based on the drug problem in Punjab, started to make news with a rumour that the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) examining committee, headed by CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani, had “grounded” the film, asking the makers to edit out close to 30 minutes by citing the use of cuss words.
The rumours about the supposed ban were dismissed but word went about soon after that the producers — Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films and Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Motion Pictures — are also having to counter political pressure as the film “sullies” the state’s reputation. The makers decided to challenge the examining committee decision and approached the revising committee.
Currently, it is understood that the revising committee met Friday and asked the filmmakers to effect 89 cuts. These also include a suggestion that “Punjab” be dropped from the title and references to the state removed. NDA-ruled Punjab, incidentally, goes to polls next year.
Kashyap took it up on Twitter Tuesday. “I always wondered what it felt like to live in North Korea .. Ab to plane pakadney ki bhi zaroorat nahin…” read one tweet, while another clarified, “It’s my fight Vs a dictatorial man sitting there operating like an oligarch in his constituency of censor board, that’s my North Korea.”
While CBFC is not yet officially talking about what transpired at the revising committee meeting, The Indian Express has learnt that the filmmakers are yet to be served an official communication on the committee’s decision. A source said the committee is yet to arrive at a final list of cuts. Their final decision with suggested cuts will be communicated by June 8 or June 9.
Kashyap has found support from Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association head Mukesh Bhatt, who will be with him at a press conference Wednesday. Bhatt described the delay in providing an official communication as a pressure tactic by Nihalani to stall the release. “It is unreasonable to demand that the reference to Punjab be removed,” Bhatt said. “The word Punjab is not an abuse, so let’s not pretend about the source to edit that part out. Nihalani is just a stooge of the current government.”
Attempts to reach Nihalani on the phone and in person yielded no response. CBFC CEO Anurag Srivastav refused to comment on the issue.
Kashyap’s Phantom Films is ready to take the battle forward to the tribunal. If it does, it will become very unlikely that the film will release on June 17 as the appellate takes a minimum eight days to follow procedure.
Another aspect of the CBFC functioning being questioned by the filmmakers is Nihalani’s presence on both the examining and the revising committees. While those on the former panel cannot be part of the latter as per the functioning of the CBFC, the chairperson is exempt from this rule.
It is for this reason that Kashyap has taken his next film, Raman Raghav, straight from the examining committee to the tribunal, he said in a statement. “When my film Bombay Velvet was in the revising committee, the same people who were in the examining committee were in the revising committee, which should not be allowed. And then he [Nihalani] doesn’t listen or argue. he tells you what to do. He lectures you that this is how the film works. Nobody gives a damn… We were told that they were referring the film to the revising committee and Mr Chairman will get back to you. Mr Nihalani was not there. He did not get back to us for days…,” Kashyap said in a statement. ”