On Friday, the Central Board of Film Certification chief Pahlaj Nihalani has been sacked from his position.
After almost two months, the government on Friday decided to sack Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahlaj Nihalani from his position. Noted lyricist-writer Prasoon Joshi has been appointed as the new chief of CBFC. Nihalani's tenure as CBFC chief was marred by several controversies. The last straw was a series of charges against Nihalani by his colleagues in the board. Since mid-July, there were rumours that the govt was planning to replace the CBFC chief and his colleagues.
The complaints against Nihalani were mounting as the film fraternity univocally criticised the board. This was echoed by filmmakers and producers as well.
Over the last few months, Nihalani was addressed as 'sanskari' chief, especially after removing a kissing scene from the Hollywood film Spectre as it was "too excessive".
And the sanctimonious attitude of Pahlaj Nihalani was always interpreted as a push from the BJP-led government and its nationalist-saffron agenda. Earlier this year, Nihalani had objected to certify the film Lipstick Under My Burka for being too "lady-oriented". The objection was against "sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography (phone sex)" and said that the film might offend Muslims.
The board suffered major embarrassment after the Appellate Tribunal instructed the board to grant a 'A' certificate. Recently, Nihalani had objected to use the word 'intercourse' in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal. Last year, Nihalani came under severe criticism when he asked the makers of Udta Punjab to drop the reference of Punjab from the film's title. He ordered no less than 89 cuts, including cuss words.
The centre faced brickbats when Nihalani demanded the removal of words like 'Gujarat' and 'cow' from Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen's documentary, The Argumentative Indian. The film industry had been constantly complaining of Nihalani's conservatism and 'grandfatherly' approach when it came to on-screen drinking and smoking scenes, despite statutory warnings.
Sources in the I & B ministry say that the centre was dissatisfied with Nihalani's tenure as he antagonised the film community and was not seen as inspirational. His stint as CBFC chief only caused more trouble for the centre. A senior minister told India Today that Nihalani was a dictator of celluloid and that the scissors in his hand was rather too active. On the other hand, Prasoon joshi too is close to the BJP and has worked with the party in the past.
Speaking about the reconstructed CBFC, filmmaker Shyam Benegal said, "I won't comment on the sacking of Pahlaj Nihalani but Prasoon Joshi is a very good choice. He is a creative person and a poet. He understands communication and media extremely well. Prasoon is an artiste, he knows artistic creation and will respond to works of arts of others with sensitivity."
On the contrary, another director said that the removal of Nihalani is the first step, but not a giant leap. The view in the industry is that the board is the DNA, which is made of prehistoric material that needs to be amended.
Sources in the government say that Nihalani was constantly creating a discomfort in the film industry and that everyone was quite upset with the way filmmakers were treated.
A senior government official said that the ministry had received complaints of Nihalani disrespecting filmmakers and people from the industry. The move also has the stamp of the I & B minister, who due to her background understands game and could fathom the grouse of the industry.