Change is the only thing that is constant, but at the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) the more things change, the more they remain the same. Pahlaj Nihalani, the new chief of CBFC — also called Censor Board — has floated a new set of guidelines on certifying films with abusive and violent content. 

Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani
Pahlaj Nihalani said he will not allow any abusive words in films

The notification, which has been sent to regional officers of the Board, details a set of abuses in both Hindi and English which will be considered objectionable in films that may have otherwise gotten a ‘U’ or ‘U/A’ certificates (see box). “Certain cuss words and abusive words have been shortlisted and will not be passed. A notification on the same has been sent to regional officers across the country,” Nihalani told mid-day. He added that such words cannot be used for the “heck of it.” “There needs to be some context to using them,” he said.

This implies that even an abuse or two in an otherwise innocuous film will land filmmakers an ‘A’ certificate, taking away a huge share of family audiences and people under 18 years of age.

Nihalani’s stance on violence against women is also clear. “Showing women being tortured should be discouraged in cinema. Besides, any scene depicting abuse of a woman will not be allowed to pass,” he said. Using abuses and derogatory terms against women, especially when uttered by a male, will not be entertained. Sexual words and their connotations – ‘maarna’, ‘lena’ — will also be censored.

“I am not going to allow the use of abusive words. It’s not me who is saying it; this is clearly mentioned in the guidelines. The previous officials allowed it and it only added to the corruption in the board. I have come here to eradicate it. One cannot allow anything in the name of realistic cinema,” Nihalani told this paper.

As far as the big R — religion — is concerned, Nihalani said, “We will be sensitising our members on subjects which deal with religious issues and make sure that the right people are there to certify a film. We will make sure no religious sentiments are hurt,” he stated. The film producer spoke against the background of the recent controversy over the film PK, which Hindu religious groups had claimed hurt their sentiments.

In fact, it was “religious sentiments” which led to Nihalani’s appointment, when MSG, the film featuring Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, the leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, was cleared by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) after having been rejected by the examining and revising committees of CBFC. The committees had deemed that the film, apart from being a self-advertisement and promoting blind faith, also hurt religious sentiments. The quick certification of MSG had led to an exodus from the Censor Board, beginning with the chairperson Leela Samson.

Samson, in her resignation, had cited “interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the Ministry, and having to manage an organisation whose Board has not met for over nine months as the Ministry had ‘no funds’ to permit the meeting of members.”

Talking of his other plans, Nihalani said, “There are plans to start a Tatkal section for certification of films on short notice. But the fees for them would be different. This proposal has also been made to the ministry and we are awaiting their opinion on it.”

The new boss also wants to bring in an online application system for certification, in order to ensure “complete transparency.” All of these plans are subject to clearance from the I&B ministry.