It was one of the most notorious examples of censorship during the Emergency, one of several blots in Sanjay Gandhi’s copybook of tyranny, and an oft-quoted case study of how government apparatus can collude to crush criticism.
Amrit Nahta’s Kissa Kursi Ka, a political satire about the Indira Gandhi government, was made in April 1975 but never released. All existing prints were destroyed on the orders of Vidya Charan Shukla, the Information and Broadcasting Minister at the time and Sanjay Gandhi crony. Nahta, a Congressman who joined the Janata Party after the Emergency, remade the movie and released it in 1978, retaining the same script and most of the cast. Nahta’s son, Rakesh, is now planning Kissa Kursi Ka 3, which will focus on the excesses of Indira Gandhi’s rule in the seventies and detail the manner in which the original movie was removed from public gaze.
“I have the movie rights and a script, 50% of which will focus on the excesses of Sanjay Gandhi and Vidya Charan Shukla and fifty per cent on how my father’s film was destroyed,” Nahta said.
The second version of the movie can be viewed on YouTube.
Kissa Kursi Ka depicts the ruling political class as an amoral, corrupt, power-hungry and debased lot. The movie has barely disguised references to the Maruti Udyog car manufacturing company set up by Sanjay Gandhi, his good friend Rukhsana Sultan, Indira Gandhi’s all-powerful secretary RK Dhawan, and controversial godman Dhirendra Brahmachari.
Manohar Singh plays Gangaram, a political amateur who starts spouting revolutionary slogans after swigging a “netagiri” tonic and is installed as the nation’s ruler by the scheming Meera Devi, played by Surekha Sikri. Gangaram initially blunders though his job – he identifies the nation’s biggest problem as an infestation of rats and insists on importing cats at a massive cost – but soon cultivates a taste for power and politics. Utpal Dutt plays the degenerate godman, while Shabana Azmi is the mute “Janata” who represents the suffering and exploited people of India.
Sikri was with the National School of Drama’s repertory company when she was invited to be a part of the cast. “I was pretty green regarding film work,” Sikri said. “I recall when I saw the film eventually that they hadn’t kept track of continuity – scenes would start in one place and end in another.” Most of the movie was shot in Delhi, with large portions set inside the Ashoka Hotel, she added.
Cut to the chase
Indira Gandhi’s resounding defeat in the general elections in March 1977 following the lifting of the Emergency cleared the path for a new Janata Party-led coalition government and for Amrit Nahta to release a second version. After the Emergency, the Supreme Court sentenced Sanjay Gandhi to a month in prison for destroying the prints.
However, even the remade Kissa Kursi Ka wasn’t safe from the scissors of the Central Board of Film Certification. The original film invited 51 cuts, but even a friendly government could not prevent the triangle that indicates when a movie has been snipped from appearing on the censor certificate. “Twenty-five cuts were ordered – once people come to power, they change their position, and the truth is never allowed to come out,” Rakesh Nahta said. The movie ran for a week because of its topicality, but it didn’t do too well because it didn’t have commercial value, he added.
“The original movie would have had a much greater impact,” Nahta said. “The truth about Indira Gandhi would have come to light.”
Rakesh Nahta was in his mid-teens when the scandal was playing out. He assisted his father on the production of the second version of the movie. Nahta has spent the last few years digging up the facts behind the destruction of his late father’s pet project. He has filed Right to Information petitions and says he accessed a Central Bureau of Investigation report that confirms that all prints were burnt.
“The film prints were destroyed despite a Supreme Court ruling,” Nahta said. “The prints were taken to Delhi on the Frontier Mail train from a processing laboratory in Prabhadevi in Bombay by a group of Delhi Police and Crime Branch officials,” he claimed. “They were burnt in a 50-foot box at a Maruti factory.”
The new Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has given him hope that he will finally get monetary compensation for his family’s loss. Nahta has apparently extracted a promise from Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, that the government will consider his petition.
Why is a movie that speaks of the political dispensation of the mid-seventies and is about characters who have since died (Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, VC Shukla) and a party that is on the downslide still relevant? “There’s a show on politics by Deepak Chaurasia on India News that is called Kissa Kursi Ka – the title simply refuses to leave us,” Rakesh Nahta said. “The seat of power transforms everybody who sits on it.”