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Know Your Censors

Censor Board members talk about religion, sexuality, violence—and the lines they want to draw on the big screen.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul | New Delhi |
Updated: March 1, 2015 11:36:04 am
censor board Censor Board members talk about religion, sexuality, violence—and the lines they want to draw on the big screen.

Who are the new members of the Central Board of Film Certification? Are they here to change the rules of the game? We got them talking about religion, sexuality, violence—and the lines they want to draw on the big screen.

‘PK created a furore, but that’s past. One has to make sure no sentiments are hurt’
Pahlaj Nihalani, 65, Chairperson, CBFC

Pahlaj Nihalani began his career as a small-time distributor at the age of 14. He started his own distribution company in 1975 and branched into producing films. Shola Aur Shabnam, Dil Tera Deewana, Aankhen and Andaaz are some of the blockbusters he has produced. Before he was appointed chairperson of CBFC, Nihalani produced BJP’s campaign video for the 2014 general elections, Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi.

What, according to you, is a good film?

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One that can be viewed with the family, the focus should be on the story, the emotions and dialogues, not the craft.

Should a film have a message?

There will always be a takeaway in a good film. A film should either entertain or impart values. This can be done even without the use of cuss words, like my film Aankhen did.

Name your favourite film.

Mughal-E-Azam and 3 Idiots. The latter showed the actors’ backsides and a speech used the word balaatkaar (rape) but the makers’ intention wasn’t bad. The calibre of the actors ensured the scenes don’t appear obscene.

What’s your view of films meant for an adult audience, for example Delhi Belly?

That film was cleared before I took up this post. Films can be made without innuendos and profanities. My film Mitti aur Sona showed a prostitute but the actor didn’t have to take her clothes off to establish the character. In my term, I intend to reinforce the guidelines set by the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

The one film you would have completely censored.

Grand Masti. On many other films, such as Ishqiya and Love Sex aur Dhokha, I don’t have an opinion because I don’t like to watch such films.

What’s your view on films that depict a lot of violence, such as Agneepath or Ghajini?

Dishoom-dishoom isn’t violence. Deewar had action but it was a good film. Amitabh Bachchan’s Agneepath is an underrated film too. The remake has a lot of unnecessary violence.

Would the same rules apply to English films or world cinema too?

Of course, we have a responsibility towards our audience. We cannot let international filmmakers guide Indian culture.

How about depiction of religion?

See how PK created a furore, but that’s past. One has to make sure no sentiments are hurt.

Why should films have swear words? [George Baker, 69]

George Baker is the token white baddie of Bengali cinema, called upon to molest and rape many women actors on screen. He contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Bengal on a BJP ticket and lost.

What, for you, is an ideal film?

Have you seen James Bond films? They are pulsating entertainers without a single cuss word. Why should entertaining films have swear words?

What films wouldn’t you clear?

Films that have extended and glorified rape sequences.

What about adult films ?

Not all adults film for the youth need swear words. They love Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham too. [Premankur Biswas]

‘I’d have suggested major cuts in Haider’
Mihir Bhuta, 50

He goes by the Twitter handle @imhindu and is said to have close ties with the RSS. But Mihir Bhuta vehemently denies this. He established himself as a fairly prominent name in Mumbai’s Gujarati theatre scene in the ’90s. He also writes for television.

What, according to you, is a good film?

A good film will be one that excels in writing, visuals and treatment. But the story and screenplay carry a movie. I believe that films with cuss words should be certified as “adult”.

Should a film have a message?

A film should entertain. If it has a message, well and good. But the standard of entertainment shouldn’t drop to abuse, or the kind of humour the AIB Roast had.

Name your favourite film.

I’ll speak of the recent films I liked. I thoroughly enjoyed Haider although I completely disagree with whatever was communicated about the Indian army. In my opinion, a film that criticises the army to such an extent shouldn’t be made.

What’s your view on adult films?

Any content, barring objectification of women, should be allowed under adult certification.

The one film you would have completely censored.

No film should sit in the cans, unless it’s porn. But films that promote anti-national sentiments should be censored. I would have suggested major cuts or a reshoot for a film like Haider. It shows that atrocities are being carried out by the army through kidnappings, killings and torture. But that’s not true.

What about films with violence?

Gory violence should be certified adult, as in Ghajini. It impacts viewers, especially children. When I wrote Mahabharata for Star recently, they objected to the scene where Bhim tears Dushasan’s chest, drinks up the blood and then takes some to Draupadi to wash her hair with it. And that’s the correct approach.

What’s your view on item numbers?

I strongly oppose them. They amount to objectification of women.

Should only members of the arts fraternity be on the board?

A filmmaker may be too open-minded. Regular people might judge better.

‘Sexuality has long been a part of Indian culture’

Chandraprakash Dwivedi, 57

A qualified medical professional, Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi, practised medicine for less than two months. He then gave it up to write and direct his first tele-series, Chanakya. He has since written and directed other shows with mythological/historical content. His debut film, Pinjar, an adaptation of Amrita Pritam’s work, was widely acclaimed. Dwivedi is an RSS member, because he shares its purpose of “working for the betterment of the country”.

What, for you, is a good film?

One that adds something to my life, an experience, knowledge, or even an idea. Else what’s the difference between a filmmaker and a madari?

Should a film have a message for the audience?

Not necessarily. A good film should entertain. It’s why people watch films. If they were looking for a message always, Shyam Benegal would still be making movies.

Name your favourite film.

All of Shyam Benegal’s films.

What’s your view of films meant for an adult audience, such as Delhi Belly?

If a filmmaker makes a film for an adult audience, that’s his prerogative. The point to be debated is, what makes a film “adult”? The idea? No, Delhi Belly is based on a very good idea. Does the treatment need to be such that it qualifies as “adult”? Perhaps no. But that’s between the audience and the maker. If the audience doesn’t want to watch it, they can choose not to.

The one film you would have banned?

I don’t believe in censorship. The correct way is certification. We need to arrive at a standardisation of certification and also introduce a category between U/A and A for the 15-plus audience.

Have any of your works faced trouble from the censors?

My very first work, the TV show Chanakya, ran into trouble and was asked to go off air. They objected to the use of saffron flag, stating that it propagates Hindu ideas. I presented them with research that showed red was the colour of Hinduism and saffron was included in our flag to represent the Sikh community.

What’s your view on films that depict violence, such as Agneepath or Ghajini?

In Mahabharata, Bhim tears apart Dushasan’s chest, drinks the blood and takes some to Draupadi. Now, is that culture or violence? The question to ask is, ‘Does the larger picture justify the violence?’ It doesn’t in most films, but we have accepted it as part of our cinema, so why change it? Next, we will be told that the actors in Dhoom cannot drive above 80kmph because that’s the speed limit in our country.

What’s your view on item numbers?

Sexuality has long been a part of Indian culture. Sometimes, dance numbers are shot in a vulgar fashion. But that’s come to be acceptable too. I’d leave it to the viewers to decide.

Should Hollywood films and world cinema be measured by the same yardstick?

There needs to be a standardisation, I agree. But we need to think according to the times we live in. If we don’t, we’ll have to edit out half their content.

‘It’s for the audience to accept or reject a film’

Ashoke Pandit, 57

Ashoke Pandit was a part of Mumbai’s theatre scene and directed several plays for Indian People’s Theatre Association before he forayed into television as a producer. A Kashmiri Pandit,he has directed two documentaries on his community. Pandit has been vocal about his support to the BJP and PM Narendra Modi.

Should members of the CBFC be from the field of arts?

It’s very important for them to have roots in the field of cinema. An official from the railways board cannot head a cultural institution.

Should a film have a message for the audience?

Not necessary. Leave it to the filmmaker to convey what he wants to.

Name your favourite film.

I love all of Gulzar sahab’s films. Among the contemporary makers, Vishal Bhardwaj, Madhur Bhandarkar and Rohit Shetty are good.

The one film you would have completely censored.

Every film deserves a release. It’s for the audience to accept or reject it.

Your view on item numbers?

Why not? If people find them entertaining, why should we object?

‘A sensible, aware panel is important’

Vani Tripathi Tikoo, 37

A National School of Drama alumni, Delhi-based Vani Tripathi Tikoo studied under and worked with Ebrahim Alkazi. She was part of the theatre scene in Delhi for 12 years. After Pooja Bhatt cast her in Tanuja Chandra’s Dushman, Tikoo moved to Mumbai and worked in films such as Chalte Chalte and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. In 2006, she returned to Delhi and embarked on a political career. She is currently a BJP MP.

What, according to you, is a good film?

As a CBFC board member, I am no one to judge which film is good or bad. Personally, I like films made aesthetically, with nuanced storytelling.

Name your favourite film.

Mother India, Do Bigha Zameen have had social messaging beautifully entwined with storytelling. Some contemporary films such as Ankhon Dekhi are good too. I don’t think cinema has to always be severe. Films like Jolly LLB, a satire, are well-made too. I also loved PK despite the controversy.

What’s your view on films meant for an adult audience, like Delhi Belly?

We need to view this sociologically. What makes content “adult”? Coarseness, nudity or sleaze? I’d prefer to use the word “mature” over “adult”. A film on a terror plot can be hard-hitting or entertaining. We need to make that distinction. Also, is cinema using explicit content to sell itself or is it in context? These are all subjective issues.

The one film you would have completely censored.

None. But I believe certification in our country needs standardisation. Currently, it depends on who is viewing the film. The decision, however, needs to be taken democratically. A group of sensible, aware people on the panel is important.

What’s your view on films that depict violence, such as Agneepath or Ghajini?

Violence can leave an indelible impression on people. We need to ask: in the whole narrative, how intrinsic is it to the story? Very gory and gruesome violence can be disturbing. If that is the case, it perhaps needs to be certified accordingly.

Should Hollywood films and world cinema be measured by the same yardstick?

It needs to be standardised and in-step with Indian cinema. A re-look at certification as a whole is required.

How should religion be depicted in films?

There needs to be respect and tolerance for every religion. But any reference needs to be looked at in context. For instance, PK spoke about how religion has been made into a business. This was misread by people who, perhaps, didn’t even watch the film. But people have the right to protest, till the time they don’t resort to vandalism.

‘We need a law against abusive words in cinema’

Jeevitha, 42

Jeevitha was 16 when she began her career as an actor in the Tamil film industry. Her first Telugu film Ankusam, remade in Hindi as Pratibandh, opposite Rajasekhar was a hit. She went on to act in 10 films with him, and eventually married him. A close friend of late politician YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Jeevitha began her political career with the Congress. After his death in 2009, the couple distanced themselves from the party. In 2014, before the general elections, she switched parties and is now with the BJP.

What, to you, is a good film?

A film that reflects human emotions without vulgarity, use of abusive words or extreme violence. The list of abusive words [that cannot be used] was passed in 2003 but it has not been followed. Similarly, vulgarity and violence are not acceptable according to censor guidelines, but filmmakers are flouting them. Abusive words in films will only misguide children. In the next meeting of CBFC, I want to suggest that such words be compiled from across all Indian languages and banned from use. The government needs to pass a law to stop these things from being shown on screen.

Should a film have a message ?

It should. Films are the best medium of conveying a message to society.

Name your favourite film.

The Tamil film Soodhu Kavvum that released in 2013 is one of my recent favourites. I also liked Shankar’s I. But I didn’t like the costumes the heroine wore. Some of her dresses were so short that while watching the film, I was hoping that she did not bend.

What’s your view of films meant for an adult audience?

I personally don’t like them but my preference cannot be imposed on others. But the question is: Why should such films be made at all? Adults, too, can be misled.

Have any of your works faced censor trouble?

Never. In most of his films, my husband has played either a cop or an army man. They are good films with a message.

What’s your view on films that show a lot of violence?

I don’t like violence in films. It isn’t impossible to communicate the idea of violence without showing blood and gore.

What’s your view on item numbers?

Dance numbers are okay, but girls don’t need to dress vulgarly. They can wear skirts but not too much below the navel or too much above the knees. Why do we wear clothes and go out? Why don’t we step out naked? In the same way, women on screen shouldn’t dress up in a vulgar fashion.

Should Hollywood films and world cinema follow the same rules?

Yes. Or maybe all international films should be certified adult and released in India.

‘Sex shouldn’t be used to sell a film’

Ramesh Patange, 70

An RSS pracharak based in Mumbai, Ramesh Patange was the editor of a magazine brought out by the Sangh, Vivek, from 1984 to 2009. An MA in economics and political studies, he has authored over 40 books. His most popular work is Main, Manu aur Sangh.

What, to you, is a good film?

One where the viewer recovers his money’s worth, doesn’t get bored.

Should a film have a message?

It should be entertaining. If it also conveys a message, that’s an added advantage.

Name your favourite film.

I love all of Guru Dutt’s films. Recently, I liked Baby as it demonstrates the challenging work that India’s secret services and armed forces do.

What’s your view of films meant for an adult audience?

If sex is being used to sell a film, it isn’t correct. Cinema impacts people, especially the youth. It’s important to keep that in mind when a film is being cleared by the CBFC.

What about films that depict a lot of violence?

Films from the South show unreal and extreme violence. They should be certified “adult”.

Should Hollywood films and world cinema be measured by the same yardstick?

Such films have a lot of nudity. That should be avoided. But also, the guidelines for certifying both Indian and international films need to be standardised.

How should religion be depicted in films?
No religion should be insulted. Most producers understand this and don’t cross their limits. Most filmmakers are also religious and their films begin with an aum or a mantra.

What about item numbers?
They are meant to entertain. People enjoy them and the songs help makers recover money. There’s nothing wrong in them.

‘Violence should be avoided ’
Prof Syed Ahmed Bari, 59

The vice-chancellor of the Central University of Gujarat has been an educationist for decades. Born in Mysore, Karnataka, Bari started his teaching career as a lecturer in 1982. He is a member of several academic committees of the Union ministry of human resource development on reforms in higher education.

What kind of language in cinema do you object to?
That entirely depends upon the character that is being portrayed in the film. There are no set rules that apply to all. However, it should be within the boundaries of decency. Abusive, degrading language or language insensitive to gender, race, religion and community is to be avoided. Films are watched at home and children should not be exposed to such language.

What do you think of violence?
As violence incites violence, it is best to avoid it.

– Ritu Sharma


‘No item numbers on TV before 11 pm’
S Ve Sekhar, 63

A popular Tamil playwright and actor, Sekhar entered politics in 2006 with AIADMK. In 2009, he joined the BJP.

When did you join BJP? Will that affect your role at CBFC?
Narendra Modi is my godfather. He has offered me this post and I will do justice to it. Since the rules are well-laid in CBFC, we only have to follow them. I am loyal, but only to Modi.

Name your favourite films.
All my own movies: Manal Kayiru, Poove Poochada Vaa and Sahadevan Mahadevan. I acted in 90 movies and all had a U certificate. That’s how a film should be. Cinema should be educative and thought-provoking. It should not corrupt young minds.

What do you think of adult films?
One latest Tamil movie has a scene in which the heroine is sitting on the lap of the hero and tasting his fingers. These are the kind of films to be banned.

What do you think of item numbers?
Some are really disturbing. We are considering a ban on item numbers with explicit content from TV till 11pm.

Should cinema have a message?
Yes, it should. For example, I liked PK and its satire. The only thing is that it criticised Hinduism more. When we criticise a religion or faith, it has to be equal.

– Arun Janardhanan

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First published on: 01-03-2015 at 08:30:36 am

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