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Pahlaj Nihalani asks filmmakers to get PM Narendra Modi's NOC for releasing film

The CBFC chief has asked documentary filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla to take NOCs from Prime Minister Modi and a few other politicians in order to obtain a certificate.

Shriram Iyengar

Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla's award-winning documentary film on Arvind Kejriwal has run into some trouble with the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Pahlaj Nihalani. Nihalani has asked the filmmakers and the producer, Anand Gandhi, to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Prime Minister Modi, and a few other politicians who are depicted in the documentary.

The documentary, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, won the Best Documentary award at the New York Indian Film Festival earlier this year. The film documents the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and his anti-corruption protests that resulted in the birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Speaking to the tabloid, Mumbai Mirror, Ranka and Shukla said that the board asked them to delete all references to the political parties of BJP and Congress in their documentaries, in addition to submitting NOCs from Modi, former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and Kejriwal among others.

The filmmakers had applied for certification in February. Shukla was quoted as saying, "At the end of the screening for the Censor Board’s examining committee, we were told the members didn’t want to speak to us or even hear us out. When we asked if they had any concerns, we were told that everything would be conveyed to us in a letter which arrived 10 days later."

In a Facebook post on the film's page, the filmmakers wrote, "We applied for a CBFC certificate because it should be possible to screen this film legally in India. However, the last few months have been very difficult. The CBFC has treated us in an arbitrary manner, all the while leaking reports to the media about our film. At the end, they have given us a U/A certificate subject to us getting an NOC from the Prime Minister of India, the chief minister of Delhi and the ex-chief minister of Delhi. This is an impossible demand. There is no way we, or any other filmmaker in the future, will be able to fulfil this."

Going further, the post says, "But more importantly, this is also an unethical demand. Especially, if we expect artists to fearlessly tell meaningful stories. We cannot progress as a democracy if every statement on politics is regarded as a threat."

While Nihalani's stance on the freedom of expression has been questionable over the period of his reign, this recent transgression raises some serious questions. The footage used in the documentary are from the leaders' public appearances, and are available in the public domain. To prevent filmmakers from using such footage would be an infringement of their freedom.

The report quoted Ranka as saying, "The footage we have used of politicians are of their public appearances, already documented and broadcast by several TV channels and newspapers. If journalists do not require NOCs for revealing information that is already there in the public domain, why should different rules apply to filmmakers? It’s like asking a journalist covering the Coalgate scam to get a NOC from a political party."

The rule of 'visuals or words involving defamation of an individual or a body of individuals, or contempt of court are not presented,' under Section 5B(2) of the Cinematograph Act seems to be the crux of the CBFC's stance.

Explaining his stance in the report, Nihalani said, "When Karan Johar used Raveena Tandon’s name in a film, he got an NOC from her. Ditto the makers of Jolly LLB 2 for a reference to Salman Khan. In this case, as they have referred to Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal, and Ms Sheila Dixit among others, they should get NoCs from them. They say they have permission to use the footage but we don’t know that for a fact. So the NOC is a reasonable demand."

The CBFC had brought up a similar issue with a previous film, Modiji Ka Gaon, which required an NOC.