Editorial: Will Pahlaj Nihalani be censored?

The Bombay high court's judgment is indeed heartening. But isn't it time for Pahlaj Nihalani to go?

Keyur Seta

The Bombay high court’s verdict on Udta Punjab is a relief for all those behind the film and a wake-up call for Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Pahlaj Nihalani. The film will now release on schedule on Friday with just one cut.

But if you look closely, the judgment wasn’t limited to Udta Punjab. It is a landmark that will be used as a precedent whenever any attempt is made to curb freedom of expression in the future. In other words, it is a judgment that has challenged the censorious attitude of our governments. 

It would be unfair not to mention the judges who pronounced this verdict — Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi. They are the ones who upheld free speech. If the verdict had gone in favour of the CBFC, not just filmmakers but artistes at large would have feared to portray reality.

But the judgment has magnified a question that has been looming for a long time. The CBFC was revamped last year by the central government after some members resigned alleging interference in passing films. Since it was the government that appointed Nihalani as chairman, the question is, how long will it continue with him. Every time Nihalani makes a laughing stock of himself, it is the government that is left embarrassed. And with the CBFC receiving such a drubbing from the high court, is there any point continuing with him? 

The government may well have grasped this reality, if the comments of information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley last week are anything to go by. Jaitley, himself a legal luminary, promised “radical changes” in film certification and said the CBFC's job would be to certify and not censor; something that the Bombay high court also pointed out yesterday.

Does this mean Nihalani is on his way out? We can only wait and watch.