ON Wednesday, as filmmakers took on Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani, the sparring also exposed another fault line — the one inside the Board. Nihalani’s appointment has evidently created two camps within the CBFC and Ashoke Pandit, albeit a controversial figure himself, has become the face of this rift. The filmmaker has taken on Nihalani on the censorship issue in the past. However, in the case of Udta Punjab, Pandit went a step further and organised the press conference on behalf of members of the Indian Film & Television Directors Association and the producers’ guild to extend support to the filmmakers.
“I don’t see it as conflict of interest because as a member of the industry, and an artiste, my duty is to back freedom of speech, be it as a CBFC member or as the board member of IFTDA,” he argues. Interestingly, Pandit himself has on more than one occasion, faced criticism for his unsavoury views on stand-up comics at All India Bakchod (AIB). He had lashed out at their roast and recently criticised Tanmay Bhatt for his video on Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar.
While Pandit may be the only person speaking up openly at the moment, there are more chinks in the CBFC armour. Until her term ended last month, Nandini Sardesai too, was one of the rebels and openly criticised Nihalani’s appointment as well as functioning. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, who had also opposed Nihalani’s decision to ban cuss words last year, may not be speaking out now but he reportedly remains unhappy with the CBFC’s goings-on. Similarly, Vani Tripathi Tikoo, too, made her stand clear in one of the pieces she wrote on Udta Punjab for a publication, where she said that CBFC functioning needs an overhaul.
According to sources in the CBFC, board members support the film industry’s view and believe that Nihalani has been functioning as a dictator and handpicks the panel members for the important Examining and Revising Committee screenings and has kept out those who express dissent. The Indian Express has learnt that at one of the Revising Committee meetings, board member Mihir Bhuta, who has also spoken out against Nihalani in the past, walked out citing as reason the treatment meted out to him.
In the 17 months since the appointment of the chairperson and board members last year, there are several members whose terms have expired and many new members who have been brought on board. This includes Hindi poet Surendra Sharma, Sanskrit scholar Naheed Abidi and Kannada film director TS Nagabharana. However, the new board has not met even once. “In fact, the last meeting happened in July last year when the board should meet once every three to four months,” says Syed Abdul Bari, the Vice Chancellor of Central University of Gujarat, and a member of the CBFC.
While some attribute the delay to the impending completion and submission of the Shyam Benegal Committee report on the CBFC, others say it is an intentional move by Nihalani to counter dissent. “When the I&B Ministry constituted the Benegal Committee, we thought it best to meet after they had submitted the report. But the submission date has been extended now to June 20,” says Bari. However, Pandit and another member of the board who did not wish to be named, view this as Nihalani’s way of keeping members from coming together against him. “At the last meeting, board members opposed Nihalani’s idea of censorship, especially his diktat to ban cuss words. That forced him to back down. He fears a redux now,” said Pandit.