The former CBFC Chief, the sanskari PAHLAJ NIHALANI tells Khushboo Tiwari why he thinks he was the right choice for the CBFC chair, definition of sanskari, his sacking and more… It was on a moderately humid day when I walked into the abode of a not-so-moderate man of fiery statements. But the man of the moment, Pahlaj Nihalani was indeed a revelation. Presenting you a sneak-peek of the conversation with the controversial sanskari.
Firstly, how does it feel to not be a part of CBFC anymore?
There hasn’t been a major difference, I‘ve always enjoyed my life and work. Yes, controversies are lesser now. People are happy with the government decision. I know that my industry is happy that I am not looking after CBFC anymore.
What do you think are the reasons you were sacked?
That’s a government decision. They appointed me when they wanted to and I took that responsibility. Now when they don’t need me, they have removed me from my job which I was doing sincerely, honestly and in a transparent manner. So if somebody doesn’t like my work, I will not force them to keep me there.
Did you believe that you were the right person for the position?
Definitely. I am from the industry, I have known the functioning of the CBFC. Even as a producer, I made sure I release movies with content free of any objectionable content. I have been very concerned and careful about the society where I am living in, and tried to protect the heritage, culture and values of our country. I was very happy that I got the responsibility as a CBFC chairman us waqt pe jab censorship ek mazak ban kar reh gayi thi, aur jis tarah se picturein clear ho rahi thi, they were full of corruption.
In the last 13 years we have had two chairmen who weren’t giving time to the chair, which made things difficult. Under their bureaucracy, they have been utilising the hot seat acting completely like an agent in between. They misused the situation. Even a CEO was caught red handed, and there was a CBI enquiry. They have not only damaged the culture but the entire thinking of the production sector. They have taken the freedom of expression in their hands and in the name of it, they have showcased completely erotic, obscene and vulgar content. I am very happy that in my tenure of two and a half year i.e. 31 months there was no corruption. I had successfully removed corruption from CBFC. Earlier, the office was misusing resources and abusing the guidelines
How do you see Prasoon Joshi taking it over?
Well, whoever comes on the position, if he gives the required attention, follows the guidelines, only then things will be in place. Prasoon Joshi is capable of taking care of what he has been assigned for. But if not, then it will be like thode din ki chaandni phir andheri raat.
Why is censorship required?
Today, the world is in your hands. Toh aapko jo chahiye aap dekh sakte ho, but jo family ke sath jo cinema dekhte ho, aap apne friend circle mein dekhta ho, ek hall mein sab milke… so there you require a certification for the content you are watching. Aaj aap ek glass mein milk bhi lete ho, toh usme bhi likha hua hain hota hain ki contents mein kya hain, but when you are watching a film, you are not aware that ki adult film mein kya kya content aayega, kis tarah ke scenes honge. But you know that because you are geting an A certificate. Glorified violence can also get an A certificate, sexual scene also can get an A certificate and so to vulgarity and obscenity. There should be some separate certification. Where you come to know what is the content in the movie… at least you don’t have to watch that with people whom you are not comfortable with.
There has been a lot of conjecture about morales and principles. What according to you is the definition of ‘sanskari’?
Sanskaar is desh ki parampara hain. Jab baccha paida hota hain kisi family mein, toh baccho ko sanskaar sikhaya jata hain. Sanskaar matlab kya accha hain aur kya bura. Family ek saath rehti hain, jo husband wife ko kaam saath mein karna chahiye woh separately karte hain, jo apne baccho ke saamne karna hain woh uska dhyaan rakhte hain… so basically every house has a censorship. Agar woh filmein waise hi aaj baccho ke haath mein aaye, toh kya hoga?
Do you consider yourself one regardless of what the majority say?
Sanskari… the way they have used looks as if they are abusing me. But I am proud that I am a sanskari. Sanskaar nahi hain toh desh mein rehne ka mujhe koi haq nahi hain.
One of the Censor board member called you a ‘tyrant’ and accused you of being a ‘diktat’. Did that bother you?
Jab mera role hi nahi hain as a board member, if anybody calls me a diktat, first he has to understand what he has been appointed for? When he is himself not aware of the system mechanism, then he can call me anything. Because I have taken the responsibility, he hasn’t taken the charge of the chair, so that is his problem because uske paas sahi dhang ke sanskaar hain hi nahi ki society mein kaise rehna hain.
If you see today, there have been an increase in the kind of films that depict reality onscreen. If that ceases, isn’t that a breach of freedom of expression?
I think filmmakers are making realistic cinema and playing with the audience because they don’t have content. They are taking all the liberty and then grumbling about the freedom of expression. India is not for that. Slumdog Millionaire projected Dharavi and won the Oscar. But do you think that is our India? In a festival circuit, you are showing a part of the dirty portion of the country.
Does your upcoming project Julie 2 fit in the entire criterion of cuts that you’ve considered for other movies?
See, now I am not in the seat of the CBFC. Now it’s the responsibility of the current CBFC office. I have personally demanded an A certificate. My content in Julie 2 is according to the guidelines.
So is there no room for filtering sex comedies instead of hard-hitting, in-depth movie themes?
Of course, that’s exactly why Kya Kool Hain Hum and Mastizaade had problems releasing. Mastizaade was refused 5 times… and they have voluntarily diluted it 6 times. But then, if the content is based on vulgarity and obscenity whatever you remove, they will lose the impact but the premises will be the same. You cannot change the premises of the movie.
Are filmmakers, directors and producers at fault according to you?
It is a complete response of the CBFC to function correctly. Previous chairmen haven’t given time to the CBFC since they cleared all kinds of movies. That’s why filmmakers thought they could make everything in the name of freedom of expression. So they forgot the responsibility of what they should make and what not.
You have had double meaning songs before in your films. How do you defend this hypocrisy?
That time, I didn’t clear my picture. My picture was a U certificate. The government saw my film thrice, if there was anything objectionable they would have withdrawn it. When the CBFC has cleared my picture, how can people raise their voice? I challenge everyone. You can go and take it to the Censor board again and not a single shot will be cut. Show me one shot of the movie where the audio and video is synchronising with anything obscene.
We know you had issues when Aligarh, showcasing homosexuality. Do you still hold similar thoughts about homosexuality?
See Aligarh was completely passed, it had only two cuts. I think the producers had gone out of the box, we cleared the movie. We gave them an A certificate so there wasn’t an objection. I have an open mind about homosexuality but it’s upon you, how you present your movie. They still took the issue over the two cuts but the characters were male who had legs on each other, they took it to the Tribunal and made noise. Today, Simran has got 10 cuts but they haven’t voiced against that. It’s the hypocrisy of producers that they have reservations about me.
Do you think that was a publicity stunt?
Yes, they have taken a lot of mileage. Even today, wherever my name comes, they are taking me for a ride.
Why do you think you attract controversies?
Because I am a transparent man. I am not a hypocrite. For me, right is right, wrong is always wrong.
Did you make friends on the way or only enemies?
Of course, the entire industry are my friends. Few filmmakers who have objected to my being the CBFC Chief with certain statements, don’t like me. But just look at their journey from their first picture to date, they have made the CBFC a tool to market their pictures.
You say you have a cordial relation with Kangana. Also, she is considered the queen of controversies lately. Is the equation the same?
Whatever Kangana is doing, she is doing it on her personal capacity. She has a right to say whatever happens in her life. If she is sharing things about her life experiences and relationships, being a top actress, what’s wrong with that? She has nothing to lose. She is transparent and says everything on camera, it shows what kind of a person she is. I believe in her. Even you have to believe in her.
Do you agree to the things that she comments about the industry?
An actor’s job is to act as per the role. She has to go through the content of the scene through the director’s view. An actor doesn’t have a right to interfere with the director’s vision and the subject itself. But actors have now realised that they are the bosses. Previously, a producer was the boss and director was just a medium. Now, the actor has become the medium. Har kutte ke din badalte hain… ab jo hain na industry mein producrers and directors, they have become messengers. So actors are the ruling bosses. But, it’s a temporary phase. A director is a director. Things will change.
Have you seen the new AIB video featuring Kangana?
I don’t like AIB and their thinking. They are simply making fun of people, and bringing up issues which are not required in the country.
But… people seem to appreciate their work?
In India, you can sell everything. There are different communities, there is a demand of it. But the majority public cannot enjoy this type of content. Today, every big actor on YouTube or social media have huge followers, if people watch that video/movie of that particular actor, it might come across as super-duper hit. But people are just following them and their activities, this doesn’t mean all the followers like what they are watching.