A day after being appointed the Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani on Tuesday had generous words of praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who he described as an “action hero” and “the number one hero”.
“After Indira Gandhi, if people thought of anybody as a leader, it was Vajpayeeji. After that there was no leadership for long. Now, under Modiji, there is a growing faith among the people that they can look forward to a bright future,” he said.
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Asked how he rated Modi’s performance so far, he told The Indian Express, “He’s an action hero… the number one hero in today’s day and time”.
Dismissing charges that the “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” video he produced in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls helped him bag the top post, Nihalani said, “It would be unfair to say that I was chosen because I made that video. I had not made that video because the party ordered it. I did it out of my own will. Like many ordinary people, I too am proud of Modiji’s leadership.
I made that video as part of my contribution to his success.”
He said the only time he met Modi after he became the PM was at the recent wedding of BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha’s son. “I have done a lot of social work in the film industry and have been involved in raising funds for many causes. I had raised Rs 4.5 crore and given it to the Gujarat government after the Bhuj earthquake. Modiji was not there at that time. My track record in social work is there for everybody to see. I also fought for getting filmmaking the status of an industry,” he said.
On reports that the new Censor Board comprises persons with BJP or RSS links, he said: “Can’t those appointed to the board have some connection or affiliation to a party? Did the UPA government ever appoint members from the BJP? When the BJP government was in power earlier, Asha Parekh was found deserving and given charge of the board. Even now, only people who are deserving have been chosen.”
He claimed that the government has “appointed knowledgeable people across fields, with different minds… the appointed people have the capacity to find objectionable elements.”
He said his top priority would be to improve the Censor Board’s “battered image”. Referring to the arrest of then Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar on bribery charges last year, he said: “Corruption came to the fore during her (Leela Samson’s) tenure when the CEO was arrested on bribery charges. Her attendance in office was minimal. The junior level staff were not paid heed to. Everybody knows her background. If things were so wrong, why didn’t she raise it earlier? She and the board members were on extension. Humiliating the government like this is not done.”
He said “the last chairperson should have resigned earlier when there were charges of corruption against the former CBFC CEO, without waiting to do the same while serving her extension period. I think that was a shameful thing to do.”
He claimed that the “the problems” in the CBFC started during the UPA government. On the other hand, he credited the NDA government for having “given a lot” to the film industry. “Sources of underworld funding were eradicated during the time of the Vajpayee government. The Indian film industry was granted industry status and entitled to bank finance,” he said.
Nihalani said he would act as a bridge between the film industry and the board. “I will listen to what the film industry has to say. But the overall agenda is to ensure that we don’t put out anything that will be harmful for society,” he said.
On how he intends to keep controversies at bay, Nihalani said, “Good cinema always works commercially, irrespective of what the Censor Board decides. We’ll go by what the majority of the board members say. And I will supervise and handle every step of the process, from application to the preview to the cuts we make.”