Following a two-year ordeal with censor diktats and legal tangles, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s satirical drama Mohalla Assi, on the commercialisation of Varanasi, has been cleared for release with an ‘A’ certificate.
Starring Sunny Deol, Sakshi Tanwar and Ravi Kishan, Mohalla Assi is based on Kashinath Singh’s Hindi Novel Kashi Ka Assi (2004). Set against the backdrop of Varanasi in the early ’90s, the film explores the globalisation of the holy city and the influx of foreigners. “We are all very happy that after such a long time we have gotten victory. It has been a long battle.” Vinay Tiwari, the producer of the film told Scroll.in.
The Central Board of Film Certification, headed Pahlaj Nihalani at the time, refused to clear the film in March 2016 saying it was “highly derogatory of humans, cult, culture, religion including but not limited to mythology.” When the makers appealed to the censor board’s Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in November 2016, around 10 cuts and modifications were suggested before reconsideration.
But the producers were not going to take no for an answer. The filmmakers filed a writ petition in a Delhi High Court, which quashed the censor board’s decision in December and directed the board to certify the film with just one cut.
The film, in which Deol play a Sanskrit teacher, ran into controversy when the trailer was launched in 2015. Through the prism of satire and comedy, the film tackles the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the implementation of the Mandal Commission report recommending reservations for Other Backward Classes.
But the producer clarified that their intention was not to single out any historic incident. “We have not particularly targeted any of these events,” Tiwari said. “Our film is set through 1989 to the early nineties. So we have depicted whatever happened during that time period. The film is about the disruption that the foreigners cause in Varanasi in terms of its culture and environment.”
The CBFC demanded 10 cuts, objecting to the use of expletives and asking for every mention of the word “temple” and “toilet” to be removed. “If we had made those 10 cuts, our film would have been disrupted,” Tiwari said. “We went to the court and a long debate happened. But finally they cleared our film with just one cut.”
Tiwari said they now have to choose whether to cut or mute some of the contentious dialogue. “Our decision is pending and we are mostly going to mute it,” he said.
The mute was suggested on a slur that Deol’s character uses in the film, in reference to prayers and scriptures, Tiwari added.
The producer insisted that there is nothing offensive about the film. “The censor board raised concerns that the film would play with the religious sentiments of people,” Tiwari said. “I am a Brahmin myself. There is nothing in the film which is derogatory. In fact when a lot of the judges watched the film, they felt that there was nothing offensive in the film.”
Drawing parallels between other films that underwent a similar ordeal, Tiwari declared it should be up to the audience to decide if a film is offensive. “Look at what happened to Udta Punjab and Padmavat,” Tiwari said. “People will decide if there is a problem with a film. The censor board’s job is to issue certificates based on the content. If the board keeps issuing cuts, what will be left in the film?”
Tiwari said the judge of a movie should be its viewers. “We started making the film in 2011 and the film is releasing in 2018. The censor board should think about the effort that the filmmakers put into films. We should let the people decide.”