Less than a month after being sacked as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, Pahlaj Nihalani has yet again managed to raise eyebrows. The Hindi filmmaker and producer has returned to the industry as the distributor of Deepak Shivdasani’s upcoming film Julie 2. A full-page advertisement in the Mid-Day newspaper on Monday featured the lead actress, Raai Laxmi, lounging on the beach, clad in a bikini bottom, a vital section of her torso strategically protected by a magazine.
But despite the suggestiveness of the ad, there is less to it than met the eye, Nihalani claimed at the launch of the trailer in Mumbai on Monday. “It does not have scenes of obscenity or vulgarity and is a completely adult family film,” the filmmaker said.
Nihalani began posing for the cameras using the poster as a backdrop, before going on to address the elephant in the room. “You might all be wondering why I started off distribution with Julie 2 of all the films,” he said. “People might think how I can be back with such a film even after being a sanskari. You all are looking at the film from the point of view of an erotic film. But every film has its own framework and its own ideas. When I listened to the story of Julie 2 in its initial stages, I found it to be very interesting as it is an inside-the-industry story.”
Starring Telugu actor Raai Laxmi in the titular role, Julie 2 narrates the many struggles of a rookie trying to make it big in Bollywood. The film is a sequel to Shivdasani’s 2004 production Julie starring Neha Dhupia. It will be released on October 6. The filmmakers refused to concede that their production could be classified as erotica. “This film is an eye-opener,” Nihalani said. “The film is also about how a few people in the film industry demean the industry’s name. I am grateful that I am associated with this film.”
Shivdasani insisted that his intention was not to sell skin. “Do not judge a film by its cover,” he declared. Laxmi echoed the same thought. “Down South, there is a limit to glamour, but with Julie 2, I have gone all out because the script requires it,” she said.
During his tenure as the censor board chairman, Nihalani had made headlines for his claims that he would not tolerate obscenity and vulgarity. Films submitted to the board were often subjected to seemingly arbitrary cuts and nicks. Asked about the censor board’s highly publicised refusal to certify Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha (which Nihalani had claimed as “lady oriented”) even as Julie 2 also focussed on a “woman’s fantasy”, the filmmaker fumed, “I know what you are referring to and all I would like to say is that there is no burkha here.”
Though Nihalani’s previous productions such as David Dhawan’s Shola Aur Shabnam (1992), Aankhen (1993) and Andaz (1994) contained a great deal of sexually suggestive material, the filmmaker stressed said that his productions had never run into trouble with the censor board. “Every human being has to fulfill their role,” he said. “Whatever role the government had given me, I fulfilled them with sincerity and accuracy. Now that I am back to films, I will see to it that I will give my hundred percent to this as well.”
He added that filmmakers often use the controversy created by run-in with the censor board as a tool to market their low-budget productions. “Films that don’t get a lot of marketing, tend to use the CBFC as a platform,” he said. “This is my battle and I will fight it all alone. I am a soldier and will fight it. I do not want the support of the industry. Whatever decision the CBFC gives on Julie 2, I will accept it.”
In keeping with his obsessive support for the Modi government, Nihalani concluded by drawing parallels between the administration’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan sanitation programme and the need to cleanse the Hindi film industry. “Every human being cleans his own house and not his entire country or neighborhood,” Nihalani said “But now that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has started, it dawns on people’s minds that they should keep the entire country clean. Likewise I have always thought that one’s mind should always be clean, no matter what. And films are nothing but mirrors of the society. This is why we should show audience-appropriate content.”