Central Board of Film Certification chief Pahlaj Nihalani was sacked from his post on Friday. Lyricist and screenplay writer Prasoon Joshi will take charge. He will hold the office for three years or until further orders, whichever is earlier, said a statement from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The government said 12 others, including actor Vidya Balan and director Vivek Agnihotri, have been roped in as board members of CBFC. Like Joshi, all these members will also be in office for three years or until further orders.
Nihalani raked up several controversies during his tenure. Reports were doing the rounds for a couple of weeks that the Ministry of information and Broadcasting may replace Nihalani, according to The Times of India.
Nihalani had called Lipstick Under My Burkha a “lady-oriented” film, and after that he had objected to the use of the word ‘intercourse’ in one of trailers of Shahrukh Khan-starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal.
In July, the CBFC chief had ordered a ban on actors from being shown drinking or smoking on screen. He had said that actors who are looked up to by millions should set an example for the society, and that a movie where alcohol is essential to the plot will be given an “Adult” certificate.
Nihalani’s ouster was hailed by most.
Filmmaker Ashok Pandit: “This had to happen. His end as the chairman had to come. I think me and others in the board played a role. He had become a nuisance to the government too. It was a one-man show. I’ve had second-line producers come up to me and complain and even cry because he would abuse them. Power went to his brain. Also, what none of us understood is why there was so much secrecy around him. He would make producers and filmmakers who came to him stand for hours. I was initially happy that a filmmaker had become the chairman. But look at what he has done! I think Indu Sarkar episode played a role. The way he harassed Madhur was ridiculous.”
Filmmaker Anand Gandhi: “This does represent change – I know that Prasoon [Joshi] is a reasonable and informed person. Even if there will be areas of disagreements, there is always going to a place of reasonable dialogue with Prasoon. That is a hope that didn’t exist earlier. I hope this is not just a replacement, but an opportunity to implement the suggestions made by the Shyam Benegal committee [to introduce changes in the Cinematograph Act that governs the board and rehaul the organisation]. There is an overall agreement that reforms in the board are long overdue.”
Film producer Kushan Nandy: “This sends a message but having said that, this is not where we should stop. Just changing the CBFC chief does not revamp the system. We have a 70-80-year-old Cinematograph Act, which is ambiguous, undefined and people are interpreting it in their own way according to their agenda. The CBFC is not a body to ban stuff. It can only certify. I hope that Nihalani’s ouster is the first step towards seeing positive change in the CBFC.”
Documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan: “Censorship is a problem in itself, it has always been. There was censorship earlier during Congress governments too, but there is a huge difference. I won 90% of my cases within the structure of the censor board, and rarely went to court. I could embarrass the government. But you cannot embarrass this government. The rules are vague enough so that anybody can interpret them any way they like. The censor board certainly does not respect our constitutional guarantees. They have empowered themselves to become film editors and directors. They have set out to remake films.”