CBFC Chief Nihalani Isn’t Doing the Film Fraternity Any Good

A Pahlaj Nihlani film on FTII smacks of political inclination which doesn’t suit the watchdog, writes Mayank Mishra.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read


A news report says CBFC Chairman Pahlaj Nihlani “plans to bring out documentary evidence of how FTII students are anti-national and are being supported by <i>bhoole bichde geet</i> producers.” (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/732079540207091/photos/pb.732079540207091.-2207520000.1447839308./732103686871343/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)

The Economic Times carried a news item on November 17 that made for depressing reading. It was not the usual depressing types like mass lay off or share market crash. There was no hint of economic growth falling off the cliff either. Nor was it about an unfolding mega corruption scandal. The story was about the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani’s next documentary on the “failure of FTII”.

If there indeed is a ‘failure’ at such a prestigious institute, it needs to be highlighted. No problem with that. But why a film now and what will it highlight? The news report said the CBFC chief “plans to bring out documentary evidence of how FTII students are anti-national and are being supported by bhoole bichde geet producers.”

A file picture of students protesting  at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). (Photo: PTI)
A file picture of students protesting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). (Photo: PTI)

Bhoole Bichde Geet Producers

Who are these bhoole bichde geet producers? Nihalani told the leading business daily that “these are film-makers who have been long forgotten and are now cashing in on the FTII students to revive their careers. Their only aim is to bring down the Modi government.” The crux of what Nihalani said is that the FTII students are “anti-national” and they are being backed by producers who want to “bring down the Modi government.”



(Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/732079540207091/photos/pb.732079540207091.-2207520000.1447839308./745626802185698/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
(Photo courtesy: Facebook)

What is anti-national about these students? Among others, they went on strike beginning June this year to protest the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, considered to be a political appointee, as the institute’s chairman. When did strike become “anti-national” activity? And when did some producers become so influential that they can pull down the all-powerful central government? Nihalani must let us know. Probably he knows something we do not know.

Snapshot

Politically ‘In’correct

  • In a recent interview, CBFC Chief Pahlaj Nihalani hints that the protests at FTII were motivated with the aim to “bring down the Modi government”
  • CBFC chief should have desisted from setting such a precedent, that of a stand either pro or anti-government
  • CBFC is like a watchdog and if its chairman endorses a certain view, there is an element of persuasive coercion in it
  • Historical research in India has suffered because of left-right spat, question is whether such tendency should enter the realm of cinema as well

Video’s Political Overtones

I know very little about films. My understanding about the role of CBFC chairman is very limited. As an ordinary citizen, I found Nihalani’s choice of words a little disconcerting. Even more disconcerting is his request to film producers to show a video that he has produced before their movie in theatres.

Currently, a video that he has produced is being shown in theatres across the country during the interval of Salman Khan-starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.

Let us not discuss the content of the video for the purpose of this article, even though it is very important. Suffice to say that the video in question, ‘Mera Desh Hai Mahan, Mera Desh Hai Jawan’, carried strong political undertones.

The content can be pro-government or anti-government, favouring a particular religion and against some other, pro a particular party or anti some other – in each of these cases it has the potential to divide. The CBFC chief should have desisted from setting such a precedent.

Currently, a video that Pahlaj Nihalani has produced is being shown in theatres  during the interval of the Salman Khan-starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/Pahlaj-Nihalani-732079540207091/photos_stream?ref=page_internal">Facebook</a>)
Currently, a video that Pahlaj Nihalani has produced is being shown in theatres during the interval of the Salman Khan-starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Potential to Divide

Coming as it does from the CBFC chairman, film producers will find it hard to turn down the request to show the video along with the films. Those who dare say ‘no’ may run the risk of facing the censor board’s wrath. The politically inclined ones in the film fraternity – and there are many such – will be agitated and start taking sides, forcing fence-sitters and pure entertainers to choose their own. Is it desirable? Absolutely not.

Taking sides is an individual’s prerogative. Nothing wrong with that. However, there is a problem with the idea of using an office to push any line – left, right or centre. Nihalani may say that these are his personal views which have nothing to do with the office he holds.

In his case, it cannot be. CBFC is like a watchdog and if its chairman has a view which he wants others in the film fraternity to incorporate, there is an element of persuasive coercion in it. It was eminently avoidable. Otherwise, we may have a fractured film fraternity.

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Perils of Division

Cinema, as an effective medium of mass communication, plays a major role in shaping public opinion. It certainly has done its bit in the nation building process. A divided film fraternity cannot be expected to play that role effectively.

We have seen how historical research in the country has suffered because of the left-right spat. The left claims to have the divine right to write history while the rightists do not want to be left behind. The left-right slugfest hasn’t helped the cause of archaeological research.

The eagerness to take sides has diminished the credibility of the media. Social media, theoretically the most democratic platform, is increasingly becoming intolerant. Can we allow such tendencies to enter and flourish in the film industry also?

This is not to suggest that the film industry has been above board. Far from it. But it has done one job well: of entertaining us without causing any damage to the country’s social fabric. Let us leave it at that, please.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)

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