Pahlaj Nihalani is out as chief, but the CBFC is still broken
In her first major act as Information and Broadcasting (I&B) minister, Smriti Irani has sacked controversial Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Pahlaj Nihalani.
While it was reported as early as a month ago that Nihalani had been put on notice by the I&B ministry, the move has still come as a surprise, especially considering the way it was carried out.
Nihalani, who only got the job on account of his closeness to the RSS and his public adulation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was unceremoniously sacked. In fact, news reports indicated that media channels had received word of his sacking before the man himself. That he wasn't given the option of resigning instead is strange, possibly indicating a change of approach under Irani.
Nihalani has caused a stir repeatedly since he first took the reigns of the CBFC just over 2 and a half years ago. A series of bizarre decisions by him, most recently his refusal to allow the word 'intercourse' in films, has seen him draw the ire of both fans as well as the film industry itself. Nihalani, for his part, has remained unrepentant throughout, wielding his censor powers with reckless abandon.
By getting rid of Nihalani, Smriti Irani has offered a sense of hope that the CBFC will no longer function with a medieval, censor-heavy outlook. Prasoon Joshi, the current favourite to replace Pahlaj Nihalani, is a marked improvement. Considerably younger than Nihalani, he will bring a fresh, more contemporary perspective to the CBFC if selected.
This isn't reform
However, well begun is only half done in this case. Smriti Irani has a lot more to do to truly revamp and reform the CBFC. In an interview with Catch on 27 July, Siddharth Roy Kapur, the current head of the Film & Television Guild of India, stressed that Pahlaj Nihalani was only part of the problem. “The government-appointed Shyam Benegal committee has made certain recommendations for the re-organisation of the CBFC,” Kapur told Catch. “We strongly support those recommendations.”
Kapur, one of the country's foremost producers, certainly knows what he's talking about. Under successive CBFC chiefs, the organisation has grossly overstepped its mandate, censoring rather than certifying. Instituting the Benegal committee's recommendations would ensure a move away from this trend.
The Benegal Committee, besides recommending that the CBFC role revert to one of primarily certification, also recommends that the CBFC chief be more of a guide. This would check the power of would-be dictatorial chiefs as was the case with Nihalani. Further, the report also suggests that the current 23-member board be trimmed to a 10-member board (including the chairman).
Unfortunately, the report which was submitted over a year ago, still hasn't been acted on by the ruling dispensation. With the sacking of Nihalani showing uncharacteristic impetus on the part of the government, one hopes that this trend continues with the implementation of the Benegal Committee's recommendations.