CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani to be sacked over PM Modi tribute video

I&B Ministry decides to oust Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani after his Modi video embarrasses government; only a matter of time before official announcement is made, says ministry official

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has decided to sack the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani for the severe embarrassment the film has caused the government.

Also read: FTII students demand Pahlaj Nihalani's resignation as CBFC chief

CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has been under fire since he was appointed head early this year, for his prudish views and right leaning; he made headlines this week for admitting he hadn’t watched Spectre but justified the decision to reduce kisses between ‘Bond’ Daniel Craig and his co-stars by 50%
CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has been under fire since he was appointed head early this year, for his prudish views and right leaning; he made headlines this week for admitting he hadn’t watched Spectre but justified the decision to reduce kisses between ‘Bond’ Daniel Craig and his co-stars by 50%

“It is a matter of time before an official announcement will be made but the decision to replace him has already been taken,” a senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

A still from Nihalani’s tribute film to Narendra Modi titled, Mera desh hai mahaan, mera desh hai jawan
A still from Nihalani’s tribute film to Narendra Modi titled, Mera desh hai mahaan, mera desh hai jawan

Nihalani has courted controversy since his appointment as head of the 23-member board in January this year, drawing flak for his prudish views and making his political leaning clear by calling PM Narendra Modi his “action hero”. His candidature was pushed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which had also supported controversial FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan.

Also read: I&B minister to meet Censor Board members after complaints against chief

Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed as the CBFC chairman in January this year
Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed as the CBFC chairman in January this year

Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley and Rajyavardhan Rathore, Minister of State for Information and Broadcas-ting, are believed to have jointly conveyed their displeasure to Nihalani, it is reliably learnt.

It could not be confirmed whether the filmmaker was called to Delhi or the warning was sounded over the phone. Social media found its game in Nihalani following his decision to cut Daniel Craig’s kisses with co-stars Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci in the latest James Bond release, Spectre, down to 50 per cent.

Things got worse when he admitted on a television debate that he stood by his decision but had not watched a single minute of the film. But it was another film that got the government’s goat.

A seven-minute film titled, Mera Desh Hai Mahan made public his hero worship of Modi, when Nihalani, overstepping the Ministry, ordered theatres across India screening Salman Khan starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo to play it during intermission.

With shoddy production quality and passing off the Dubai Expressway and the Moscow International Business Centre as scenes from emerging India, the film is now less a eulogy and more a cause for unease. Nihalani later clarified that the images were necessary to convey Modi’s vision of a new India.

He hoped to give Modi a moniker akin to Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Nehru Chacha’ when he included in his film an image of Modi in the padmasana Photoshopped against a snow-capped peak, spotted by a group of kids who shout, “Modi Kaka!”

That interview to the TV channel, claim Ministry sources, was the final trigger. It was here that Nihalani confessed that he hasn’t watched a single scene of Spectre but was happy to see the kissing scenes cut. That he called himself an “old” and “sanskari Chairman of CBFC” made matters worse.

The film was taken off theatres in two days because it had been made and aired without the Ministry’s approval.

The official said Nihalani, in a short span, had become “one of the biggest jokes on social media because he repeatedly said he does not watch films”. It’s learnt that two members of the CBFC board had called up the ministers, describing Nihalani as the “Greg Chappell of Indian cinema”, demanding his removal.

Also read: Rift in Censor board - Chief Pahlaj Nihalani defends controversial cuss words list, slams other member

Nihalani has been at loggerheads with some of his colleagues, including Ashoke Pandit and Vani Tripathi Tikoo. “Pahlaj Nihalani has always functioned on his own accord and I don’t subscribe to his curtailing of creative rights,” Pandit tweeted, disassociating himself from the decision to make the cuts in Spectre. He argued that a director once associated with smutty cinema shouldn’t be “giving sermons to filmmakers”.

Interestingly, Rathore, during a visit to Mumbai’s CBFC office this March, deliberately kept Nihalani out of a meeting he called with the directors. It’s here that some of them are said to have openly come out against Nihalani; some even calling him “a dictator”.

Rathore has consistently stressed that the Board should concern itself with certifying films on the basis of which the age-groups of viewers that watch them can be determined.

A source at the Censor Board said they had heard news of the ouster but didn’t know if it was true. “He went on a news show on Tuesday night to discuss why the kissing scenes in Spectre were reduced to half their duration, after which his phone has been switched off.”

When mid-day called Nihalani, we met with the same response. He didn’t respond to text messages either.

Nihalani goes snip

>> He dropped the word ‘rakhail’ from Sooraj Barjatiya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and cut a hanging scene. 

>> Nihalani was responsible for muting words describing homosexuality in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. 

>> He banned a documentary titled, Unfreedom by Raj Amit Kumar that discussed homosexuality and communalism, and another called Battle for Banaras directed by Kamal Swaroop on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections involving Narendra Modi and AAP President Arvind Kejriwal.

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