Censor the Censor

Media commentators concede that the Film Industry and Censor Board, historically, has always had differing views on screening content.


Sant Pahlaj Nihalani has decreed that 28 cuss words — 13 English, 15 Hindi — be banned from Bollywood movies! They are destructive to our great parampara, a thappa to our rich, pure 5000 year old civilization and finally an undesirable influence on the pristine moral code and ethos of a resurgent Bharat where ache din threatens to pop up, any second now!” That was my cynical friend who also dead-panned, “Yaar ek baat bata … these lofty pronouncements were made from where … Hardwar, Kashi, Tirupati, Kedar-Badri?”

Interestingly, he added, this diktat has come from a film-maker “once renowned for his sadak-chhaap, double entendre movies; an entity one cannot remotely accuse of any form of artistic, cultural or intellectual worth; a film personality never ever taken too seriously by the industry, trade, critics or audience. He has now suddenly and shockingly been para-dropped into a very responsible and sensitive space, recently occupied by the respected and eminent dancer Leela Samson — and this is his opening salvo!”

Media commentators concede that the Film Industry and Censor Board, historically, has always had differing views on screening content even when they had players from their home team — Anupam Kher and Sharmila Tagore — as head honcho, but this time, they confess, confusion has got confounded! There is wide belief that this is a political appointment — Nihalani’s open worship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is well known — but, that it would lead to such bizarre fallout ….

“Not at all,” offers 30 year old Vikas Singhania, an investment banker from Delhi who is also a fan of Bollywood and connected with all its gossip, “because there is life beyond 28 words!” What the smartie means is that B-town, ever ingenious, inventive and innovative, will surely find at least 28 more expletives as delightfully appropriate substitutes and it will, once again be … business as usual.

Others point to the tons of brain-dead Reality Shows on TV and a clutch of ad commercials of dubious taste that don’t exactly celebrate Mera Bharat Mahan’s moral high ground. Still others mention explicit item numbers, unleashed on salivating and repressed zillions, to wake the dead. So wassup?!

Fact is, the Censor Board has a clear cut agenda: To ensure freedom of artistic self-expression in the movies in visuals and language of film-makers and films. Nihalani is being too simplistic and rigid in striking off 28 cuss words in his enthusiasm to be politically correct because he misses the point totally. Language in a movie is the critical vehicle of thought, but always a servant of characterization, circumstance and milieu in which the situation is placed. If circumstances demand raw, uncouth, even slang and abusive language (Bandit Queen, Wassipur, Omkara), it is totally justified and Nihalani has no right to summarily ban the words because they belong to the dreaded 28 club. As for audiences, if anything, they appreciate the fact — even if conservatives cringe a little — that the language is true to character. Besides, as media commentator, Shobha De pointed out in a TV Panel discussion, which world does Nihalani reside in? In the India of 2015, expletives explode everywhere, including on our great, revered, political platforms and podiums. Also, it is common knowledge that a lot of these gaalis are used as adjectives and touching terms of endearment! In many parts of India, especially youngistan comprising, yes, both sexes, the F word or BC/MC is no big deal and used regularly as start-up for conversations.

To the sane and concerned, Nihalani’s drive brings up two basic problems. One, the profile and background of the people who head and form the Censor Board committee. They worry that most of them are political appointees, self-absorbed with exaggerated notions of self-importance matched only by their total disconnection with the contours of popular culture. It’s the establishment’s way of saying thank you and returning the favor for loyalty.

If that is really the case then the Censor Board needs to be censored totally revamped with the right bums on the right seats. Also it is difficult to believe that even amongst political appointees, one can’t identify solid individuals from the field of art, culture and education, with acknowledged scholarship, reputation, vision and integrity, who will offer the movie viewer some sense of sanity. The second equally worrying aspect is about the deathly silence of the lambs of the Bollywood industry.

Shockingly except for a very, very few — the irrepressible Bhatts, as always heading the list, later joined by Vidhu Vinod Chopra — no major voice or star, director, or producer has even raised a squeak. The criticism has come from the other cinema, not the Rs. 200 crores mainstream Moghuls. Herein lies the essential problem of B-town. Come what may, they just don’t want to rock the boat or screw up the status quo. They prefer to play safe … remain onlookers and spectators and will only step in when there is something that affects them individually — as stars and their Box Office future. Sad.

Think up some cuss words for these censors, jaldi — have fun!

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