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Exclusive: CBFC is certifying body, can't modify a film, fumes Pahlaj Nihalani


The former CBFC chief said vendetta was probably why his Rangeela Raja has been hauled up by the board.

Photo:Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

When he was chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the censor board, Pahlaj Nihalani often courted controversy with his pronouncements and with the way the board functioned, making cuts in a few films.

At that time, affected producers and directors cried foul, saying they were being victimized by the board. Now, it's the turn of Nihalani to do the same as the CBFC has ordered several cuts in his Govinda-starrer Rangeela Raja. 

There were reports of the board recommending as many as 20 cuts to the film. Nihalani has filed a writ petition in the Bombay high court challenging the recommendation.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, he said, “The picture has to be cleared with a 'U/A' certificate with the modification of 13 cuts”. He suggested that the board was willing to certify his film provided he agreed with some of its terms. But Nihalani is in no mood to relent for he believes his film is being unfairly targeted.

The film's trailer, which was released a few weeks ago, did have content that could be perceived as innuendo. Rangeela Raja is due to be released on 16 November, provided, of course, the court disposes of Nihalani's plea before that date.

Rangeela Raja stars Govinda in a double role of twins, with the older twin playing a colourful character that has drawn comparisons with disgraced business tycoon Vijay Mallya, who was known for his flamboyant lifestyle.

Nihalani stated that apart from the usual disclaimer at the beginning of the film, about the story being a work of fiction and no characters resembling any person dead or alive, he has been asked to add three more disclaimers.

“Because the said person [Vijay Mallya] is alive, they want 2 or 3 more disclaimers to be added," he said. "And they want to add the ‘smoking kills’ health advisory in both Hindi and English.” 

Nihalani said when he was CBFC chief, he had written to the Union heath ministry explaining how the advisory detracts from the viewing experience. "You already have an advisory ad before the screening, before the interval, and after the interval," he said. "Now they [the CBFC] want it to be shown in Hindi too! People pay to watch the movie, not this. How can you show such a health advisory for two and a half minutes before the screening and after the interval? It is a waste of time.”

Coming to Rangeela Raja, Nihalani said the CBFC has recommended cuts based on perceptions. “The cuts that they have recommended, those scenes don’t exist in the film,” he claimed.

The former CBFC chairperson cited a few instances where the board had got it wrong. “There is a scene where the husband Raja [Govinda] slaps his wife [played by Digangana Suryavanshi]. I have not shown the slap, we have only used the sound. What you see is an action and a reaction, but we have not shot the slap. Yet they want to remove it," he complained.

"These guys [on the examining committee] are new, they don’t know what cinema is. They believe this is like torturing a woman,” he fumed.

Nihalani did not name the person but questioned the competence of the examining committee officer. “I don't know in what state of mind the officer has seen the film and recommended so many cuts," he said. "From what I know, he is a non-permanent regional officer. He doesn’t know anything."

Coming to the criticism he used to face from producers and directors on similar grounds, Nihalani said that was because of a wrong perception. 

“This perception was floated in the media that I was watching each and every movie," he said. "But the instructions would come from the ministry. Here it seems to be coming from [the regional officer]. It appears that he has taken to harassing me. There is no objectionable content but they are creating a story that I have made a bad film. My film doesn't demand such modification," he asserted. 

The producer cited another sequence where the dialogue goes, “Arjun ki tarha teer bunke raat ko nikalte ho [You set out at night like Arjun's arrow]." Defending the dialogue, Nihalani said this was in praise of Arjuna, the warrior prince in the Mahabharata. "But they have objected to this line too. It tells you how corrupt their minds are. These are conversations between a wife and her husband, or between brothers. How can there be any double meaning here?" 

In another scene that the board has allegedly objected to, Nihalani said the wife addresses the husband as “Hey, old man", to which he responds: 'Mujhse takkar mat kartalvar myan se nikal jayegi toh lene ke dene pad jayengey [Don't mess with me. If the sword comes out of its sheath, it will prove costly].'

"What’s the double meaning here?" he demanded. "This is just a Hindi turn of phrase. We have only used the sound of the sword in the background. Govinda plays a Rajput in the film."

Nihalani has moved the Bombay high court and expects that his case will come up on Monday (12 November). That wouldn’t leave him with much time to release the film, even if the court clears it. The film is slated to be released on 16 November.

The aggrieved producer pointed out that the guidelines that were followed in the case of a few films which were cleared by the court during his tenure have not been applied to his film. 

“The guidelines we followed during my tenure have been thrown into the dustbin," he said. "They have cleared films like Manmarziyaan (2018) and Veere Di Wedding (2018). How this has happened needs to be raised. Udta Punjab (2016) got relief from the court after it felt there was no need for certain cuts. Why hasn't the same been applied to my film? My films do not demand any cuts. CBFC is a certification body. It has no right to modify a film. I’m a responsible person, I know what is right and wrong,” he said.

The buzz in the media and on social media is that Nihalani is perhaps getting a taste of his own medicine. It may be recalled that after his abrupt removal as CBFC chairperson, Nihalani had also hit out at the information and broadcasting ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, claiming that he was merely following the guidelines that were formulated years ago. In an interview to Lehren TV, Nihalani had also briefly revealed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party did not want his board to clear Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).

Nihalani is convinced that these incidents are why he is being victimzed.

“I want justice," he said. "If you see, barring three or four producers, I had problems with no other films. There was Anurag Kashyap, Mukesh Bhatt, Prakash Raj. Everyone knows hows Anurag Kashyap wants to use the CBFC as a marketing tool. Why didn’t we see that when he made Bombay Velvet (2015) [with Ranbir Kapaoor]? All these directors [who went to court against the CBFC], they are nowhere today. They have made such bad films, that they are nowhere today.” said Nihalani.

Would he be content if the CBFC cleared his film without cuts but with an A certificate?

Nihalani said, "I won't accept an Adults certificate. My content is not like that. There is no vulgarity, no obscenity, no child or woman abuse. We don’t even have a kiss on the cheek. I know what the guidelines are. My films have never been censored. The wrong modification is written in the wrong context. I’m confident my film will get a 'U/A' certificate."

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Censorship