Prakash Jha: CBFC should start giving ‘lady-oriented’ certificates to films

The filmmaker slams the CBFC for not clearing Lipstick Under My Burkha, but feels this is not the first board to create problems for filmmakers.

Keyur Seta

Filmmaker Prakash Jha has run into problems with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) throughout his career. He is once again at the receiving end of the current board of CBFC members, headed by Pahlaj Nihalani. The board has refused certification to his production, Lipstick Under My Burkha, for being ‘lady-oriented’, among other issues.

In an extensive conversation with, Jha slammed the CBFC for not clearing the film directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and said society is also to be blamed for the ill-treatment that women routinely face. Excerpts:

Your film [Lipstick Under My Burkha] has been stalled by the CBFC....

I have always faced this problem because I know when you make a guideline and give power to someone to interpret it, the person’s individuality and understanding of society comes into play. This is the reason I have been saying for 10 years that this whole process of censoring should be done away with. There should only be certification. Why should we give power in the hands of someone to decide what a society can see, do, wear or eat?

But it is a certification board. They are officially not called the censor board.

Yes, they are Central Board of Film Certification. But they have been given powers of censorship. This will keep happening until their powers are withdrawn. There should be a substitute for them. When the people of the country have the power to overthrow the government and ideologies, then a film is a very small matter.

They are having problems seeing a lady in a burkha applying lipstick. In a male-dominated society, people will look at things only from their view. They have no problem if women study and carry out hard work and earn money. But they can’t take a decision. You can look beautiful because that is for our joy. We will think about your sexuality. You are born so you can serve a man throughout your life. Keep him happy and satisfied. But how can you think about your satisfaction? This is not allowed.

This might sound crude. But this is how some sections of society think. They feel we have allowed you to come into this world. So you have to think and do as per [what we say]. How many married women in this world can even talk to their husbands about their sexual satisfaction? In case they do, the husband will think, how dare she think this way. If you are thinking this, it seems you have been thinking about other things too.

Now, if a film tries speaking this from a woman’s point of view, will they be able to tolerate it? A girl is told to return home before evening. Now imagine a society where guys are raised urging them to return home before evening else some girl might harass him. Be scared. If two women are coming from the opposite side, just run away. Ideally, nobody should be scared of anyone. 

It’s just a small film about four women and their dreams, thoughts, satisfaction and imagination. Those who have seen the film and those who will see will realize that there is no vulgarity. There are no such songs, cleavage and pelvic shots. If this was such a film, do you think it would have been celebrated all over the world? It has been screened in so many countries. It has also been the opening film at a few places and won as many as seven awards. Did this happen just like that? It has been appreciated by audiences from Asia, Africa, Europe, America. It’s just that women think about their sexuality from their own angle. This is intolerable for male-dominated society and those who interpret it that way. They said it’s a ‘lady-oriented film.’ So what can I do? I can only laugh.

How did you react when you read that the film has been refused certification for being 'lady-oriented’?

I simply laughed. One does feel like laughing at such things.

Didn't you find it confusing and difficult to understand?

Even I didn’t understand. That’s why I laughed. The person who has written it might also not have understood. 

Don’t you think this is the hypocrisy of society and not just the CBFC?

Of course! Society doesn’t realize that the world has moved on and also started celebrating the success of two pehalwan [wrestler] girls [in Dangal]. But these censor board members aren’t able to understand this. Women of today’s generation can talk freely if there are not sexually satisfied. But majority of Indian women, especially those who go through arranged marriage and are brought up in an orthodox environment, can’t. And it is such an important part of our lives. The whole civilization revolves around sexuality, but we can’t talk or express. For example, if a girl marries a guy in Moradabad and tells him that he doesn’t know how to have sex, what would the guy feel? 

Now, if a film talks about such things, some people will be troubled. I have made such films before too. For example what Shabana [Azmi] and Madhuri [Dixit] do with their husbands in Mrityudand (1997). They didn’t try to show them inferior. But they couldn’t tolerate their atrocities anymore. 

Such issues have been cropping up ever since the CBFC was revamped in 2015.

No, there is nothing like that. This problem has always been there. Didn’t they trouble us during Raajneeti (2010), Aarakshan (2011) and Chakravyuh (2012)? They have always been troubling us. I have been to the tribunal before too, even during Jai Gangaajal (2016). This is their mindset.

There has to be some solution to this. What can it be?

The solution is to finish censoring and make them a certification body. It is as simple. If you are not satisfied with the ‘Adults’ certificate, go a bit further. Start ‘lady-oriented’ certification. Certified as ‘lady-oriented’ (laughs). I have no problem with that.

Nothing has happened even about the Shyam Benegal committee that was formed by the government....

No, it is very good that the government formed it. At least they thought about this. Last few governments didn’t do even this. BJP government thought about this and made the Shyam Benegal committee. The committee has submitted its report, which is being discussed. I would like to encourage the government and request them to change this system as soon as possible and make it a certification body. 

Do you feel sad that the audience in India, the very country that has made the film, is unable to watch it?

They will watch it. I am not worried about that. Never. 

Is it because your films have regularly faced such troubles?

I wake up every morning and pray that I face some barrier. If there is none, there is no fun in life. This is exactly how I had started off. I didn’t want to learn physics so I ran away to Mumbai to do something else.

Which is your next film as director?

I am making a film called Satsang.