Putting the sense back in censor

“I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” Winston Churchill famously said in 1942. In spite of his very liberal views, Prasoon Joshi has probably not been appointed the CBFC chief in order to preside over the liquidation of censorship in India just yet. While the industry’s desire that the CBFC step away from censorship and restrict itself to certification may not come true overnight, a rewind to Prasoon’s opinions and observations on the issue in past years would indicate that at the very least, the industry could expect a far more rational and thought out approach in decision making.

In 2015, when ‘Margarita With A Straw’ ran into censor trouble, Prasoon – the film’s screenwriter and lyricist – made the point that “this is not an industry of irresponsible people, but of creativity. A filmmaker has no intent of making a film to spoil society; one should recognize his talent and the effort behind it.” In the same year, he made these observations on the certification process: “A filmmaker is reflecting and shaping the society as well, and, for that, sensitivity is required. Most of the filmmakers I work with have it. So, I feel one should not try and reach a stage where the certification process becomes like a computer programme. That you put your reels and after some beep sounds, you get the certificate.” As that thought process gets to work in the CBFC, filmmakers may expect to not be treated as irresponsible truants to be disciplined, and hope that their sensibilities will be better comprehended. When as staunch a critic of the CBFC as Vivek Agnihotri states that he was tempted to join it after I&B Minister Smriti Irani informed him of Prasoon’s appointment, it’s safe to say that the government will probably be able to take a break from the pattern of recurrently having egg on its face, courtesy CBFC issues.

A second undercurrent of thought has been that Prasoon has usually not subscribed to the populist view that ‘cinema corrupts’ and therefore has to be set right each week. “Why blame censorship for vulgar songs? Our collective conscience as Indian listeners should censor bad songs,” he has argued. “Just taking films or papers or channels, making them stand in a row and declaring that ‘aap ne bigada hai’- this is a very simplistic argument. Itni aasaan baat nahi hai,” he said to DT in 2013. And then put the question back in these words: “My biggest question is that if there is something you find offensive – a certain song or a certain lyric or a certain scene or a portrayal or a book – and it is a big hit, you go to YouTube and you find 12 million hits for that song. Then you question the society you are living in. Are we having double standards? Are we consuming something else as people, and condemning the same thing outside? It poses a larger question.”

In 2010, Prasoon wrote in a piece for The Times Of India, “Today, there is a democratization of thought. There’s opportunity for individuals to contribute to the formation of mass culture rather than just being passive observers.” Shaping the CBFC’s approach is about as significant a chance to contribute to the formation of mass culture as it gets right now.


A lot of things went wrong, the CBFC wasn’t just becoming unpopular, but also undemocratic: Vani Tripathi Tikoo


Vani Tripathi Tikoo, who has been a CBFC member since 2015, has always opined that the process of film certification needs a revamp and that the Board should stop taking a high moral ground and refrain from interfering with creative work. “We, the members of the Board, think that we are the guardians of morality in the country. We take ourselves too seriously… we have no business taking creative decisions for any creative work,” Vani, the former national secretary of BJP, had said earlier this year.

Vani Tripathi Tikoo

(BCCL/ Lokesh Kashyap
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On the recent revamp of the Board and Prasoon Joshi being appointed as the new chairperson of the CBFC, Vani says that this is a welcome change and the inclusion of members like Vidya Balan will pave way for content that the audience consumes today. She says, “I have always said that cinema is not just a creative issue, it is a reflection of our society. Prasoon is a brilliant lyricist, he is a fantastic writer and as an advertising man he knows how the society thinks, so it is a wonderful decision. People who are related to content today, people who are serving actors, directors and producers, will know what the audience wants today and they understand the mindset of the people. Having creative minds on the Board also means that there is a lot of creative responsibility. A lot of cumulative effort goes into creating cinema and I hope and am confident that the same cumulativeness will prevail in the newly-constituted Board. To be inclusive, cumulative and to understand how people want to consume content today is the way to look forward.”

Talking about the Board’s decisions in last two years under Pahlaj Nihalani‘s leadership, Vani says, “This is 2017 and films being made today reflect what people are doing and thinking and we should be in tune with the times when we certify those films. We are also living in the digital era, we consume content on our palms, so being stuck and saying, ‘Achcha, now you cut this, this word can’t be used’, is bizarre. So many mishaps happened. We were not just becoming unpopular but also undemocratic. We almost looked like an undemocratic body. I kept saying that we are a certification body, we have no business to censor films. The word censor is the wrong term, it is perceptively wrong, we are the Central Board of Film Certification, we should just see what influence a particular film has on underage audience or an adult audience, period!”

She hopes that the newly-constituted Board will also look at the recommendations by the Shyam Benegal Committee, which was set up last year to draft rules and regulations for film certification. “I am hopeful that the ministry and the newly-constituted Board will look at the hard work that the Benegal Committee did and it will look at extending the horizons of ratings, which is very much required today. Between a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old, a lot of things change in our country today. I think the ratings will become self-explanatory as to how content should be consumed,” she concludes.


The young and the old members can together work towards development of cinema: Waman Kendre, new CBFC member


Waman Kendre, director of National School of Drama, who is already a member of a number of advisory councils of theatre and film institutes, has also been appointed as a member of the Board. Kendre told us that he has not received any official communication yet and got to know about it from newspapers. “I got a call from the I&B minister Smriti Irani a few days back and she asked me if I would like to accept the proposal of joining Censor board and I accepted it. At that time, I had no clue about other members and I have not received any official communication yet. Prasoon Joshi is an accomplished lyricist and has a clear vision about cinema and Vidya Balan is a sensitive actress. I believe, together, the young and old members will be able to work for the development of cinema.”

Waman Kendre

He is currently a member of the Advisory Council of FTII and was a member of the Maharashtra government’s censor board for theatre for 10 years, said that he will bring his experience from these positions to his new role. He said, “What I used to do in Mumbai for theatre, now I will play the same role for films. Cinema bhi abhivyakti (expression) hai. The role the CBFC is not to issue cuts, it is a positive and liberal role which means working for film development.”

Talking about switching between his current position as NSD head and a CBFC member, he said, “NSD is my priority and will remain most important for me. I will figure out how to divide my time now. As film appreciation is part of the theatre course in NSD, I used to send NSD students to watch films, maybe now I will send them more often.”

–with inputs from [email protected] and [email protected]