Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap should be lauded for taking on Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani over his movie Udta Punjab. Eager to impose his rotten, priggish norms over the film industry and the nation, Nihalani seems to have developed hostility towards anything not only non-sanskari but also anything truthful. Hence his jihad against creativity.
The film, set against the backdrop of the growing drug menace in Punjab, has been directed by Abhishek Chaubey. The main actors are Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh.
The objections by Nihalani and others emanate from the premise that filmmakers should either make movies like saccharine Hum aapke hain kaun or concentrate only on such concepts as Bhakt Prahlad and Sati Anusuya. Why focus on something as unsavory as substance abuse in Punjab? Nihalani would like to paraphrase Marx to the Anurag Kashyaps: “Filmmakers have tried to interpret the reality in various ways; the point, however, is to ignore it.” And keep making mindless films, completely bereft of any social or political content.
The biggest takeaway of this controversy, and the most pertinent message to filmmakers, is that just keep living in the fantasy world. Any sojourn into the reality, as in the case of Udta Punjab, will be subjected to severe censorship. So, even the title of the film has been ordered to be excised; the word ‘Punjab’ should be removed, said the CBFC, the certification body that has donned the mantle of a censor. Of course, it has given it an ‘A’ or adult certificate
This is beside the 89 cuts that have been ordered; all references to Punjab in the film should also be done away with. Even the references to places Punjab, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Jashanpura, Ambesar, Ludhiana, and Moga have to be reportedly removed. Further, there can’t be any mention of election, MP, party, MLA, Punjab, and Parliament, in the film.
The rationale? Nihalani told PTI, “When they have put a disclaimer that the film has fictitious characters but the whole movie is on Punjab and they have taken names from Punjab… Then we have a reason and as per the guidelines we can cut. That’s why we have cut.”
How perverse illogic could get? Movies can’t name the Indian states and towns, can’t mention election, MP, MLA. And why? Because some pigheaded clown holding an office fancies such mentions offensive. What kind of country are we living in? Kashyap is not too far off the mark when he alludes to North Korea.
Nihalani claims that his motives are not political, but that is not correct. His idea seems to please the Bharatiya Janata Party which is the junior partner of the Akali Dal in Punjab. Evidently, a slice of the Punjab reality doesn’t suit the ruling coalition, neither in the state nor at the Centre. Hence the campaign against the movie.
Yes campaign, for the idea is to somehow hurt those who are not sympathetic to the BJP-led coalition’s narrative. As filmmaker Sudhir Mishra told a news website, “Whatever is happening is quite futile, because ultimately Udta Punjab will be seen. It will ultimately come on the Internet. You [the CBFC] can just delay it and hamper the filmmakers and producers. So maybe you want to send this message—that, ‘Don’t invest in films like these,’ so that people will be scared to make them. But I’m not going to get scared, and I don’t think anyone else here would, too.”
Such CBFC actions are the celluloid counterpart of strategic lawsuit against public participation or SLAPP. Without actually formally suppressing a freedom, its exercise is made expensive and painful.
It is quite possible that the top NDA bosses in New Delhi are not involved; perhaps Nihalani, acting more loyal than the king, has taken upon himself to protect what he thinks are the best interests of the NDA. Whatever may be the case, the victims are liberty and creativity.
Nihalani keeps making preposterous statements to defend his own indefensible actions. He said that he had “heard” that Kashyap “had taken money from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)” to show malign Punjab. That somebody holding an important office makes outrageous, slanderous remarks based on hearsay is evidence enough for his dismissal. The more important issue is: even if Kashyap had been paid by the AAP, the CBFC or anybody else doesn’t have the right to curtail his freedom of expression (In this context, it must be mentioned that Nihalani’s intransigence is matched only by the AAP’s hypocrisy. The party has supported Kashyap in the name of creative liberty, but a few weeks ago, it had forced a leading publishing house to sack a senior journalist for his anti-Kejriwal tweet).
Unfortunately, Nihalani is not the only enemy of freedom fighting against Udta Punjab; the Punjab government is also opposing the movie. Talking to a news channel, a state spokesperson questioned its timing. Why was it being released a few months before Assembly polls, he asked. Now, should movie directors also take into account the election schedules?
It is odd that at the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi was saying nice things about democracy and liberty, his handpicked chap heading the CBFC was waging a vicious war against freedom. Nihalani is a fossil, a disgrace to the Modi regime, and a liability for the country. The sooner he is sacked, the better it would be for the government as well as for India.