The Central Board Film Certification is a gift that keeps on giving. The CBFC on February 22, refused to certify Prakash Jha’s “Lipstick under my Burkha” citing reasons that read, “The story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society,” reads the letter from the CBFC. The movie stars actors of the renown if Konkana Sen Sharma and Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plait Borthakur. The movie is set in a small town and revolves around the dual lives of 4 women who are in a scramble to set themselves free from several bonds imposed by the society. It must be noted that the movie has already won several awards and critical acclaim including the Oxfam award for “Best Film on Gender Equality” at the Mumbai Film Festival and the “Spirit of Asia Prize” at the Tokyo film festival.
According to Oxfam India, “The film was selected as it creatively and effectively takes on marital rape, religious orthodoxy, sexuality of older women and most importantly women taking agency over their bodies.” Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agrawal said that movie ferociously challenged gender stereotypes in the society and there was a need to promote and support such “lady-oriented” movies. According to Mumbai Mirror, Director Alankrita Shrivastava, who is currently at the Glasgow Fim Festival for the premiere of the movie, said that CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani had seen the film with the Revising Committee following which a call had been made to her informing that they had unanimously decided not to certify the film. Shrivastava says that the “Lipstick under my Burkha” was a feminist film challenging patriarchy. The director feels that it is the sole reason for not certifying the movie.
Let us try and understand the logic behind the refusal to certify a “lady oriented” film. The question, that needs to be asked is what does the CBFC mean by the term and why is that a reason to practically ban a movie. Is Mr Nihalani objecting to the existence of the obvious? Women do have sexual needs and desires and they can choose, have chosen, and keep on choosing to act on them. The constitution allows them to. It is basic human rights. Why does a film like “Lipstick under my Burkha” goes uncertified when the CBFC has passed numerous others depicting stalking, even promoting harassment under the U/A certificate?
Earlier, in an interview with the Hindu, Mr Nihalani had said that he didn’t mind being a conservative if he has to serve the nation. Nihalani professed his love for the sacred duty assigned to him by no one to take care of the new generation and the future of the country. Speaking to the reporter, Nihalani had said that CBFC was very liberal but questioned as to what the modern generation was watching. He had argued that giving them license to watch anything was not the way he wanted to project the Indian culture.
What culture are we talking about here? The movie is “lady oriented”. Does Nihalani agree to the existing patriarchy and so adept in its practice that he doesn’t feel it necessary let filmmakers speak against it? What is the culture we are speaking of? British Filmmaker Leslie Goodwin’s documentary “India’s Daughter” on the 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ Gang Rape was banned in India under the pretext that it showed India in a bad image.
No, the actual rape had very much done so.
Earlier last year, the CBFC had ordered a massive 13 cuts in “Udta Punjab“, a movie and the closest depiction of the drug problem in Punjab. Producer Anurag Kashyap and a sizable number of people from the film community had approached the Bombay High Court, which has passed the movie with 1 cut. The Court had also directed that the CBFC did not have the power to censor films, only certify them, a decision which has clearly been mentioned in the constitution and the directions of the Supreme Court.
But Pahlaj Nihalani seems to have developed a thick skin. Films such as “Baar Baar Dekho‘ and ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil‘, that were later released had also been directed to cut scenes. I am sure, the CBFC has parameters for certifying or not certifying a film. But it must be understood that art is subjective to the eyes and hence depends on the perception of the watchers. Pahlaj Nihalani had spent the better part of his film career producing movies with choreography of pelvis thrust in-bust-thrust-out in the age of gross objectification in Indian cinema. His Lal Duppate Wali song from the movie Aankhen became so popular based on the actresses’ subtle habit of raising their skirts to an extent while lip syncing “‘Har kisi ke liye ye khirki nahin khulti.” This is also the same man who made the following video:
So what gives him the qualifications to head the board that certifies films to be seen by Indian audience? This is a man, so blinded by his own sense of self-righteousness that reality has become a fragile violation of his ethics. There are 1.2 billion people in India, with a very different sense of morality and ethics and are willing to expand their horizon in matters of art and cinema. For once when we are gone as a civilisation, it won’t be our bones that define who we were, but the depictions of what the best of us had managed to conjure.