Pahlaj Nihalani is not going to go quietly.
Days after he was sacked as Central Board of Film Certification chairperson, the Hindi film producer made a series of sensational allegations and disparaging remarks about the recently appointed Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, the Home Ministry, Kabir Khan and Anurag Kashyap in an interview with eminent journalist Bharathi S Pradhan for the YouTube channel Lehren TV.
“Indu Sarkar was the main issue... Smriti Irani is always an issue… Whichever ministry she has been a part of, she has made her presence felt,” he told Pradhan. “She told me, why are you not clearing Indu Sarkar without cuts? I said, I will go with the procedure. She wanted to show her presence in the I&B ministry and who bigger a target than me? She is a powerful minister wherever she goes.”
Nihalani was appointed censor board chairperson on January 19, 2015, and replaced with Prasoon Joshi on August 11, 2017. While in office, Nihalani led a moral crusade against filmmakers and bad-mouthed them in the media when they complained.
Nihalani displays the same truculence in his Lehren TV interview, claiming that “enemies” within the film industry had ganged up against him as soon as he was appointed to the post. He defended his tenure by claiming that he had cleared certain films despite pressure from the Centre, including Kabir Khan’s 2015 Id release Bajrangi Bhaijaan, starring Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor.
“I got a call from the home ministry to not release the film on Id because of its title,” Nihalani told Pradhan, adding that the ministry thought that the movie was about a relationship between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman. The film’s writer, K Raghavendra Rao, was also writing a film for Nihalani at the time.
“I wrote three letters to the ministry asking them to see the picture according to the guidelines,” Nihalani claimed. “I have gone out of my way… then too I have been made a villain.”
Nihalani also lit into the movie’s director. “Kabir Khan is a useless fellow, unprofessional,” he said. “Without any reason and despite not facing problems, he has spoken against me.”
Nihalani also alleged that the ministry – he didn’t specify which one – told him not to clear Abhishek Chaubey’s drug trade-themed Udta Punjab (2016). “There was pressure from many places to not pass the movie,” he said. “After that, the revising committee gave it a date, and I passed the movie.”
Nihalani denied rumours that Lipstick Under My Burkha producer Ekta Kapoor, who is good friends with Smriti Irani, had anything to do with his exit, but he did say that the feminist drama, which was initially denied certification, benefitted tremendously from the proposed cuts: “If Lipstick didn’t get publicity, it would been a no-show.”
Another target of Nihalani’s vitriol was filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, who has openly spoken out against the former chairperson’s arbitrary and high-handed ways. Nihalani claimed that Kashyap created controversies around his low-budget films in order to benefit from the ensuing publicity – “He used the censor board to market the films that he knew would not run.”
Kashyap’s two-part crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) was released before Nihalani’s tenure. Nihalani claimed that Kashyap re-inserted profanity that had been cut out into the final release.
Saying that he had now been relieved of the “crown of thorns”, Nihalani said about his successor, “Prasoon Joshi is a very nice man, he will have to reap the fruit of my sins and good deeds.”