There are "two cracks" that need to be fixed in the Indian film censorship system, says controversial former chief of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Pahlaj Nihalani, who believes introducing a new rating slab could be a solution.
During his term as CBFC chief, Nihalani faced a lot of flak for refusing certificates to films or demanding cuts and beeps. He says the problem will never get sorted until the rules of the rating system are improved.
"There are two cracks in the whole system that have not been addressed correctly, and therefore the wrong projection of CBFC has gone to the public," Nihalani told IANS in an interview here.
"Most countries have rating systems. In our country, the rating system needs to be improved. We have 'U' (unrestricted), 'U/A' (parental guidance for children below the age of 12 years) and 'A' (restricted to adults) rating.
"We need a rating in between as well, and that is not happening. I joined as CBFC chief on January 18, 2015, and by February, I had written a letter to the government demanding a new rating system. We need a rating between 'U/A' and 'A'," Nihalani added.
Citing examples of different ratings of the same film in different countries, he said: "For instance, 'Kaabil', which we gave a 'U/A' rating -- which means children of 12+ are allowed to watch under the guidance of parents -- got 15+ rating in London, which means children under the age of 15 are not allowed to watch it.
"'Baahubali 2', which we gave 'U/A', got a 15+ rating abroad. So there are different rating systems that exist and we also need to bring that reform."
While changing the rating system is one of the issues that needs to be addressed, Nihalani also described as "misinformation" that CBFC exists just to certify a film -- and not to censor.
"The crack in the system is there... Mr Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore came to Mumbai and said in public that CBFC is a certification board where we are not supposed to censor anything, but just certify.
"Following the rule book, how would you certify a film, if there is no rating between 'U' and 'U/A', between 'U/A' and 'A'? How can you pass a film that hurts sentiments -- whether it is religious, cultural, or national?
"Therefore, censorship is needed, and CBFC always existed to censor and certify films for public viewing."
Last year, veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, as head of special committee, submitted a report to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry recommending that the CBFC merely certify films and not censor them. Why was the recommendation not adopted?
Nihalani countered: "Along with that, even I submitted a report on the six-rating system. I was not involved in the Benegal committee recommendation. Before that, the Mudgal committee submitted another recommendation where former CBFC members like Sharmila Tagore and Leela Samson were involved.
"According to me, that is more realistic and a practical recommendation than those of the Benegal committee."
Given that, in today's digital era, Indian audiences are exposed to global entertainment, does censorship hold any relevance? Nihalani is categorical: "Yes, it does."
"We practice censoring of words and thoughts even in daily conversations. Your choice of words and expressions change before your friends and parents. You do not talk to your colleagues and a little child in the same manner or tone," said Nihalani, adding that he is proud to have been labelled a "sanskaari" censor board chief.
In complete contrast to that image, he has turned distributor for "Julie 2", the poster and trailer of which are dominated by a semi-nude actress and scenes which may have raised his eyebrows as censor chief.
"Well, none of the scenes that show skin are out of context. The film shows the reality of our film industry, how they treat women, especially newcomers," said Nihalani, defending his decision.
"This is a content-driven film and does not show vulgarity. Therefore, I decided to produce and distribute the film."
The film has got an 'A' certification, without any cuts, and "adult family members can surely sit down and watch it together", quipped Nihalani.