How a Tiny Insignificant CBFC Is Choking India’s Young Filmmakers
We don’t need no thought control, but the CBFC differs. (Photo: iStock; modified by <b>The Quint</b>)
We don’t need no thought control, but the CBFC differs. (Photo: iStock; modified by The Quint)

How a Tiny Insignificant CBFC Is Choking India’s Young Filmmakers

Filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. (Photo courtesy: Twitter; modified by <b>The Quint</b>)
Filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. (Photo courtesy: Twitter; modified by The Quint)

“We are still trying to figure out what to do here,” says Vinay Shukla, co-director of An Insignificant Man - the documentary film that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) currently has in its stranglehold.

As you know by now, for the release of An Insignificant Man in India, Vinay and Khushboo Ranka, the duo behind the docu, have been asked by the CBFC to get a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) from PM Narendra Modi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and former Delhi CM Sheila Dixit.

A demand unheard of for the certification of any documentary film till date.

Even India’s most controversially celebrated documentary filmmaker, Anand Patwardhan, is stumped by the CBFC’s demand.

We actually spoke to Patwardhan when this came up and we asked him if he has ever been asked for a NOC, and he said he has never been asked for one. In fact he told us that this demand is illegal.
Khushboo Ranka, Co-director ‘An Insignificant Man’

So what’s it about An Insignificant Man that has rankled the CBFC’s chief Pahlaj Nihalani to the extent that he’s ensuring that the film doesn’t see the light of day in India?

A still from <i>An Insignificant Man. </i>(Photo courtesy: Twitter)
A still from An Insignificant Man. (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

An Insignificant Man is:

  • A 100-minute documentary film
  • It provides an inside view of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party
  • The documentary was shot in an observational style for over an year, from the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party to their first election
  • The film has no interviews, no voice-over
  • The filmmakers wanted the documentary to have space for interpretation

“We’ve shown the film at several festivals, even at MAMI people have come up to us and said, we hate the Aam Aadmi Party but we loved your film,” says Khushboo.

“India is the world’s largest democracy, but how does this democracy really function? What is an election campaign? What does a new political party in India have to do to become known? These are questions no one has answers to because no one has really documented these things on film. Now that we are looking to build that bridge, we are being warned that if you do this it comes with repercussions,” Vinay offers, sounding upset.

What’s most ridiculous about the CBFC’s demand for an NOC is that - all the footage that’s been used in An Insignificant Man are of public appearances made by politicians, which are regularly documented and broadcast by news channels. “We haven’t done a sting operation or used secret cameras, why would that require an NOC?” questions Khushboo.

But this ridiculous scene has played out over and over again with regard to the CBFC in the last few years:

A talented bunch from India makes a film that’s feted the world over, but the authorities here do everything they can to kill it in India.
<i>An Insignificant Man </i>has been watched around the globe, but whatever.
An Insignificant Man has been watched around the globe, but whatever.

“The film was made because the two of us believed that our films should be closer to reality, politics and politicians affect us so much in our daily lives but the films that we were watching didn’t really show that reality,” says Vinay, throwing light on the motive behind the making of the documentary.

“We were almost naive to believe that we can just go and make this film, it will get produced and it will get passed with a censor certificate. Now that this NOC thing has happened, both of us have been completely thrown off,” he adds.

So what’s the way forward, I ask - the makers of Udta Punjab took the CBFC to court and won, so is the team planning to do something similar?

Udta Punjab was a big bollywood film starring Shahid Kapoor, this film has literally been produced by me, Khushboo and Anand (Gandhi) and our resources are very meagre compared to the big guns here,” Vinay explains.

While we can still go to court and our film may still get passed, there is a very clear message being sent out to filmmakers who want to make such films - that if you make films which take on real issues, real problems and take real names, we will create problems for you. Is that a cinema culture that you want to be a part of? We keep complaining that our films do not tackle real problems, and the filmmaker who take those risks are being punished.
Vinay Shukla, Co-director ‘An Insignificant Man’
Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.&nbsp;
Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla. 

“It’s not just my or Khushboo’s prerogative here as to how we figure out to get this film passed - we also need to understand what’s the larger cinema culture we are developing in this country and what is happening right below our nose,” pleads Vinay ending our conversation.

So what is happening right below our nose?

We have a few rigid, reactionary, fuddy-duddies in places of authority finding themselves completely out of sync with the current creative thought process and yet trying to stay relevant with their arbitrary, irrational diktats.

Though intrinsically tiny and insignificant (which explains their bullying nature), their regressive, ludicrous worldview is like a deathly stranglehold tightening its grip on our young creative filmmakers who are exploring new genres, stories and methods of storytelling. Anything that does not match their ideology or that is even slightly rebellious is slowly choked to death.

In this case, the CBFC is throttling two young first-time filmmakers, who moved to Delhi to follow their passion, shot 400 hours of footage to create something out-of-the-box.

“A little bit of me has died. But a lot of me doesn’t give a shit.” (Courtesy: <a href="https://68.media.tumblr.com/d08e284df087c5ae95c036063925741c/tumblr_nls0awkR431rsxukuo1_500.gif">GIF</a>)
“A little bit of me has died. But a lot of me doesn’t give a shit.” (Courtesy: GIF)

IF we still don’t take the current culture of repression and gagging as a serious affront to the democratic, liberal creative process that we ideally should have, we’ll just be one of those by-standers at that accident spot who detachedly stand around taking pictures of victims, casually watching them slowly bleed to death.

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