Pahlaj Nihalani claims his short film on Narendra Modi is ‘about my rapport with the PM’ and says ‘filmmakers nowadays are not making movies for families’.
Pahlaj Nihalani, chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, attributes the cuts in Spectre to ‘guidelines’, claims his short film on Narendra Modi is ‘about my rapport with the PM’ and says ‘filmmakers nowadays are not making movies for families’.
Why Pahlaj Nihalani?
Pahlaj Nihalani, a film producer and distributor, was appointed the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification of India in January 2015. Since then, he has been at the centre of several controversies.
Of late, he has been facing criticism over his video that eulogises Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the cuts
in the kissing scenes of the latest James Bond movie Spectre.
ALAKA SAHANI: You are interacting with the media very frequently these days. Is it to clear the air after the controversy over reducing the length of the kiss in the new James Bond movie, Spectre?
We at the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) have done our job. The producer of the movie, Sony, has no problem with it. We have cleared the matter with them. The Sony CEO and others have sent a message thanking me and the panel members for clearing the film with a U/A certificate 20 days before the movie released. For the first time, the panel has allowed the kiss to remain unlike in 2006 and 2012, when the other James Bond movies released.
ALAKA SAHANI: The minister of state for I&B Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore recently said that there should be certification and not censoring.
We have to follow the Cinematograph Act (1952), which was framed by the ministry and Parliament. We are doing the certification as per the guidelines, since they (films) are being shown to the public. MSG 2: The Messenger, for instance, was cleared by the CBFC and released (September 18, 2015). Whether it has clicked or not is not our responsibility. The tourism ministry sent us a notice, asking us why we cleared the movie… Many times we get notices from various organisations and religious groups after we clear the movie. Even for Bajrangi Bhaijaan (July 17, 2015 ), we got so many notices—from the home ministry, local organisations. We saw there was nothing objectionable in the film and cleared it.
KAVITHA IYER: There was a huge outcry on Twitter over the cuts in Spectre and #SanskaariBond was a top trend. Everyone, especially the youth, felt that it doesn’t make a difference if a kiss lasts for 20 seconds or a minute. Do you think the CBFC should find a more nuanced way of certifying films as opposed to just imposing cuts?
First of all, I want to tell you that the rating depends on the producer. People on Twitter and the media have to understand the ratings (system). When a producer wants a U/A certificate, we will definitely go for cuts keeping that in mind. Two days ago, a film from Universal was given the U/A certificate with four cuts and they applied to the revising committee. The revising committee gave the film an ‘A’ certificate since there were cuss words and other (such) materials.
The public can blame us and I take criticism very well. However, filmmakers nowadays are not making movies for families. They are making different kinds of movies. In the industry today, at least 90% of the directors are completely new. So are the producers. They have come with different ideas, which neither the Censor Board nor the audience has seen before. We certify them. Weird movies also are coming—they are neither for theatrical nor digital release. Some are completed in a day or two and sent to us. Some are just pornographic material. If people want, we will clear that as well. But guidelines will have to be changed. That is not in our hands.
TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA: Recently, the Mumbai-based Raza Academy demanded a ban on the Iranian film, Muhammad: the Messenger of God. What is your opinion on such third parties that keep pushing for bans on movies?
There are organisations, which come to the Censor Board office with morchas (rally). Until we watch the movie, and see the content, we do not know what kind of movie it is. In the case of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, many such protesters abused Salman Khan. Even people from his community were abusing him. People and the media today tweet without knowing the matter. This has to change. People are opting for the digital platform, which does not require a certificate and things are changing. There is an alternative for everything.
Whatever the criticism, it is healthy because it leads to awareness. We have to understand the youth also. We live in a democracy and things are being allowed. People are just talking about intolerance. But things are changing and people are listening to the youngsters also.
SMITA NAIR: Aamir Khan has said that in the last six months, developments in the Censor Board have been worrisome. What exactly have you been doing in the last six months that is worrisome?
I want to ask Mr Aamir Khan that. He has never worked in such kind of movies, except one movie, Delhi Belly, for which he got into trouble. He was making some weird things, which is not acceptable to the public. He is an experienced man. A Satyamev Jayate (Khan’s TV show) man. And he is responsible to the society and has a huge fan club. So why is he concerned and worried? He is the only person in the industry who has had lengthy kissing scenes in a U/A certificate film. How did he get away with it when today even a James Bond can’t? For A-certificate movies, we allow 30-second kissing according to the guidelines. I am asking Aamir Khan, and I want the answer from him as a producer, how did he get away with so many lengthy kisses on screen?
SHIVANI NAIK: There is a scene in Spectre where a man’s eyes are gouged out. I watched the movie with a five- to six-year-old who started clapping. Don’t you think something as violent as that is more impressionable than a kiss?
In 2006 and 2012, other chairmen did not allow the kiss. We will change the guidelines. But it has to come from the ministry. It can’t come from my side.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Do you think the guidelines need to be reformed now?
Yes, it is required. I have recommended reforms to the government.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Why have you been accused of moral policing?
A board member has been creating problems for me and damaging my image. That internal person has been leaking information. That is the reason why these problems are arising. We are handicapped by our rules.
SHIVANI NAIK: Which guideline says that a kiss is not allowed in a film? Are the rules not open to individual interpretation?
I will give you the rule book. Please read it. That is not the issue. You have seen a lot of movies, you are connected to the media, and hence, there will be such talk. Today, the criticism is there. I have given suggestions on what people should see. Please get it that we (the CBFC) should not harm the producer’s content, we should just give certificates. If I have to make the movie, I have a target audience in mind. The writer writes accordingly.
We have recommended that movies should now be given the U/A, 12 +, 15+ , 18, 18+ and 18++ rating. At least the audience should know what kind of movie they are watching.
ALAKA SAHANI: Is having so many ratings a viable option?
You must try and understand how we are giving these ratings. I stand by my people in the committee who have given the rating. Today, even producers are not objecting. Then, why are you (media) objecting?
SHIVANI NAIK: You have been talking about producers and their content. What about the director’s work?
Frankly, India is more liberal when compared to many other countries. You are speaking of the director’s content… if any of our recent movies go abroad, they (their Censor Board) will cut it.
In NH10, the film had gone through the cuts that we suggested, but later it went uncensored. When you are exporting a film, you also need a certificate, but the producer in this case (NH10) had exported the film without a certificate to Pakistan.
Later, someone sent me the certificate (foreign certificate for NH10), and the same abusive language and cuss words that were cut by the CBFC, were cut there (abroad) too. London has a different policy, if one goes to watch movies in Dubai, it has a different certification.
We are liberal and we have a liberal stand. How did some movies manage to get away earlier? Because of corruption. Now, we are working very sincerely.
Let’s talk of one movie. Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur has the word ‘Mumbai’. The guidelines clearly say that the stories set after 1995 (the year Bombay was officially named ‘Mumbai’) will refer to the metropolis as ‘Mumbai’. So Kashyap changed the word ‘Bombay’ to ‘Mumbai’ in Gangs of Wasseypur. But when he made Bombay Velvet (May 15, 2015), we were very clear that if the movie is a period drama, we won’t object to the use of ‘Bombay’.
SHIVANI NAIK: How do you decide on categories and how do you decide what is moderate?
Woh dekhte time samajh main aa jata hai (We understand it when we watch the film). I am not an authority on deciding anything. It’s just the rule book. The guidelines were made long ago and the ordinance makers know what to keep and what not to keep. The new generation does not know, they don’t understand the guidelines. But let’s say they (guidelines) are going to change. It will soon be in the public domain and one can always give recommendations.
MANASI PHADKE: You are still not specifying the parameters.
For an Adult certificate, we keep four things—horror, violence, morbidity and double meaning—in mind. I agree that the parametres have to change. Some amendments will be made.
Once that’s done, you people will not have complaints.
ALAKA SAHANI: When we are talking of cinema, can we follow the rulebook so strictly?
Like all of you, those on CBFC committee also have some sensibilities. Today, you are on this job and you take your job seriously. They are also professionals and they are trained and they do their job. Unlike the media they cannot do twists and turns.
KAVITHA IYER: Should the ruling party have a say in the appointment of the chairman of institutes like the FTII and CBFC?
You ask the government or some politician about it. I don’t have any personal opinion on this. Next question.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: You have made such entertaining movies, but your recent short film on Narendra Modi was criticised for its quality.
How can I talk about the Prime Minister? That video is about my rapport with him. I’ve never met him, except twice—once at the wedding (of Shatrughan Sinha’s son), which was two days before I took charge at the CBFC, and once earlier, when he was not even the chief minister. I have great respect for him and I have confidence in him. Whatever I made, I did so in my personal capacity. I was given the offer of heading the CBFC in 2003, too, by the NDA government, but I refused at the time, as I was president of the Association of Motion Pictures and TV Programme Producers. When I took up this job, I knew it was a thankless job and that I would face fire from all sides.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: There is a strong feeling among a certain section of people that big production houses manage to muscle their way through the CBFC and the smaller ones get stuck.
We don’t meet the producers before clearing the films, we only see the applications. Our system is such that whoever applies first, gets through first. We don’t differentiate between big and small producers. Everything is equal. If you’re getting any such complaints, please direct them to me. I will do everything possible. My phone is on 24 hours.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: Which movie of yours are you most proud of?
I’m proud of Aandhiyan (1990), which starred Mumtaz and Shatrughan Sinha. My next movie is on the floor and then I will work on three more soon.
SMITA NAIR: Hindi movies have in the past talked about sex, though in innuendos. So why take offence with today’s movies?
I made a movie like Mitti Aur Sona (1989), starring Chunky Pandey and Sonam, who played a prostitute in it. I didn’t have a single shot that was vulgar. Even my first movie Hathkadi (1995), which was based on rape, had no such scene. The rape was only shown by how the doll in the car moved. My movie Aankhen (1993) is so widely loved. People still love it and it’s playing on TV all the time.
SHIVANI NAIK: Your film Shola aur Shabnam had several steamy scenes.
I got the certificate for whatever I made. Aandhiyan had one cut, which was a silly cut. It was for a scene that involved torture in a jacuzzi. I went to the tribunal about it and it got passed. The tribunal has a very different mindset.
AAMIR KHAN: What is your definition of vulgarity and obscenity?
I don’t need to describe that. Everyone knows what vulgarity is.
SMITA NAIR: Do you have any friends left in the industry?
Everyone is my friend. People call me for everything. They have a different attitude when they call me and an entirely different attitude when they go in front of the camera. Such is life.
MANSI PHADKE: Should there be a process of certification for digital cinema?
I’m not connected with that. First, the government has to think about it.
TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA: I recently saw an ad for a television soap in the newspaper, which showed two women kissing. Do you think there should be censorship for television content too?
There are double standards there. Television producers don’t require a censor board, so they do self-regulation. Then why do they require a censor board for promos and ads? While we are following guidelines, television people are showing whatever they want. Either television (members) should take responsibility and not show what is not permissible or the government should allow movies to show such content also. There shouldn’t be two different policies.
ALAKA SAHANI: You say you are not required to watch the movies that come for certification. Can you explain your role at the CBFC?
My role is to monitor, ensure that the office is working properly and give the certificate. This is because the certificate can only be signed by the chairman. I have to see if the members’ decision is unanimous or whether there’s a difference of opinion. In case there is a difference of opinion, I have to decide whether to clear the movie or send it to the revising committee.
SMITA NAIR: You’ve made some popular movies. But do you regret that people from this generation will remember you as the man who cut a kiss?
I can’t go against the policies of the board, just like you are not going to go against your company and its policies. You have to work within the parameters. When Ram Teri Ganga Maili was cleared back in those days, the chairman was sacked and so was the officer.
Transcribed by Arita Sarkar, Benita Chacko, Aathira Vasudevan, Smita Nair, Tabassum Barnagarwala and Pooja Pillai