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Minders Of The Cinema

Gajendra Chauhan and Pahlaj Nihalani seem to be acting out a common script

Written by Sunanda Mehta |
Updated: June 24, 2016 12:05:40 am
Pahlaj Nihalani, Gajendra chauhan, FTII, CBFC, Modi govt FTII, Modi govt CBFC, CBFC chief row, FTII head row, FTII protest, udta punjab, Udta punjab cuts, indian film industry, kathakali censorship, indian film censorship, entertainment news, india news, indian express column With these two custodians thus stationed, Indian cinema is today little more than a hapless, orphaned child.

It’s a well thought out script that starts with the end. And one will have to be not just naïve but fairly obtuse to not see the pattern. In what has to be more than a mere coincidence, two mediocre, wilfully blinkered and prejudiced persons have come to occupy two formidable positions in the Indian film industry, positions that give them the power to wield a considerable say over what gets made and how it should be presented to the public. So similar are the two occupants of the posts that they could well have stepped out of the cliched lost-and-found-brothers formula of Hindi films.

Both these men were appointed by the Modi government to watch over the film industry in 2015. In January 2015, Pahlaj Nihalani took over as chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and, in June the same year, Gajendra Chauhan was announced as chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune.

As soon as Nihalani, rescued from definite anonymity after an unremarkable stint of 29 years as president of the Association of Motion Pictures and TV Programme Producers and a string of forgettable movies, took over he went on a rampage banning curse words, disallowing A-certified films on television even with the requisite cuts, and, of course, famously reducing the kissing scene in Spectre to a friendly peck. In hindsight, he was only a part of the scenario that was unfolding in the rest of the country. Just in case anyone was daft enough to miss the point, he also went ahead and released one of the tackiest music videos ever made titled Mera Desh Hai Mahaan, dedicated to the prime minister. Add to all these the recent Udta Punjab controversy, and one gets the general sense of where the script is headed and who’s writing all the lines.

Having posted one dependable sentry at the exit point, the government decided to work backwards when it realised it made more sense to snuff out the germ of free thought and radical expression at birth itself. The spotlight then shifted to the FTII, that cauldron of rebellious creativity and the best possible incubation lab for out-of-the-box thinking, where students question established norms and, heaven forbid, morals.

Step two of the plan thus saw Chauhan appointed as sentry to this gateway. The erstwhile Yudhishtir (ironically, known for his wisdom and fair play in the epic) of the TV soap, Mahabharat, who emerged remarkably unscathed from the eight-month long strike that FTII students embarked on to protest his appointment, also wasted little time in pushing the larger agenda of his benefactors. Last month, there were proposals afoot to turn the gurukul of Indian cinema into a digital and commercial institute pockmarked with short-term quick-fix popular courses.

To cut a long story short, in the span of a little more than a year, two critical points to the hugely impactful world of cinema have as its guardians men who are not just seen to be stooges of the government, but also persons who have are perceived to have shown an absolute lack of spine when it comes to standing up for their own fraternity. With these two custodians thus stationed, Indian cinema is today little more than a hapless, orphaned child.

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