The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in India, popularly known as the censor board, is again under the spotlight for forcing several cuts on Udta Punjab, a Hindi feature film dealing with the subject of drug abuse in Punjab (North India).
Udta Punjab, written and directed by Abhishek Chaubey showcasing the controversial topic of drug abuse in Punjab became the recent target of the censor board. The film was scheduled to release in June 17, but the current exchange of allegations by co-producer of the film and renowned filmmaker Anurag Kashyap (his recent film Raman Raghav 2.0 was premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, in the Directors’ Fortnight section) and CBFC head Pahlaj Nihalani is getting quite heated up to say the least.
Kashyap takes to court the CBFC decision
Kashyap, along with filmmaker Vikash Bahl, have decided to take their case to the court opposing numerous cuts proposed by CBFC. The film Udta Punjab, starring Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, was previously asked to cut 40 scenes for explicit language and visual substance abuse. However, when the makers requested an ‘A certificate’ to keep the film intact, a revising committee demanded 89 cuts and also asked to remove the name ‘Punjab’ from the title along with all references to the state.
Although this is not the first time that the CBFC has gone out of its way to suggest cuts based on issues they say are imperative to safeguard the integrity of the nation, this time several filmmakers consider it could be a serious threat to freedom of expression in our country.
Political blame game
While Punjab is gearing up for the state elections in 2017, the issue of drug abuse and its depiction in the film have also aired reactions from the political parties. Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader and the Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, openly accused Pahlaj Nihalani of having direct connections with the Akali Dal-BJP alliance, while Pahlaj Nihalani alleged co-producer Anurag Kashyap had “taken money from AAP” to tarnish the image of Punjab and its people.
Kashyap, known for his ‘not-so-cordial’ relationship with the censor board, said in a tweet that the certification board head is operating like an oligarch for ordering cuts.
It’s my fight Vs a dictatorial man sitting there operating like an oligarch in his constituency of censor board, that’s my North Korea
— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) June 7, 2016
In a recent post on his official Facebook page, Kashyap explained his stand and revealed concerns about the increasing practice to curb freedom of expression of any art form in India. He reaffirmed that his fight is not inspired by any political interest and demanded a rational reaction from his colleagues and supporters without getting diverted from the real issue.
Filmmakers condemn censor board actions
Renowned filmmakers such as Mahesh Bhatt and Sudhir Mishra have openly criticized CBFC’s call on Udta Punjab. In a press conference in Mumbai, filmmakers joined in favour of Anurag Kashyap. While the film producers have asked for a copy of the order passed by the censor board’s review committee the censor board revision committee reveals that the petition regarding the release of an uncut Udta Punjab will be taken up on Thursday.
Some of the reactions of renowned film personalities on the censorship of Udta Punjab are as follows:
” Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance”. Is Pahalaj Nihalani listening ?
— Mahesh Bhatt (@MaheshNBhatt) June 6, 2016
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) June 8, 2016
Delusion or collusion? Why is the establishment so scared of films that mirror reality? #UdtaPunjabCensored
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) June 6, 2016
— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) June 8, 2016
#UdtaPunjab speaks of the reality of our times….censoring reality amounts to delusion…..the fraternity has to stand by what’s right!!
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) June 6, 2016
A committee headed by veteran director Shyam Benegal recently submitted a report suggesting a set of reforms that would rather justify the name of the film certification body and aims to lay down a ‘holistic framework’ for CBFC. However, the recent conflict of interest describes how the efforts to bridge the gap between filmmakers and the censor board have failed to make a substantial mark.