MSG sparks spate of resignations in Censor Board

Citing “corruption and interference by the I&B ministry”, Board chief Leela Samson stepped down on Thursday night; Ira Bhaskar, another member, shall also put in her papers and others are likely to follow suit

MSG: Messenger of God has many disbelievers in the Censor Board. After the film received swift clearance from the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) post-rejection from the examining and revising committees of the Central Board of Film Certification also called Censor Board the board chief and another member stepped down from their positions.

Leela Samson
Leela Samson

Censor Board chief Leela Samson put in her papers on Thursday night, amid reports that MSG, the film featuring Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan, had been cleared by the FCAT.

In support of Samson, Ira Bhaskar, another member, will also put in her papers. Said Bhaskar, “I am going to e-mail my resignation and this is in support of the chairperson. We, as a board, stood for transparency in certification.

We wanted the board to work as a certification body, not a censoring body, and wanted to encourage dialogue.” An en masse resignation of members is expected today. The Censor Board had refused to clear the film, saying it could hurt religious sentiments and also promoted superstition and blind belief.

Moral stand
In her resignation letter, Samson, a Bharatnatyam dancer, cites “interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers” in the organisation who are appointed by the I&B Ministry, as well as “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.”

She added that the term of all the members as well as the chairperson of the CBFC was over. “But since the new government failed to appoint a new board and chairperson, a few were given extensions and asked to carry on till this procedure was completed,” says Samson, who was appointed chairperson in 2011, succeeding Sharmila Tagore.

She also pointed fingers at Shravan Kumar, CEO, Children’s Film Society of India, who holds additional charge as Censor Board’s CEO. “Recent cases of interference in the working of the CBFC by the Ministry, through an ‘additional charge’ CEO and corrupt panel members has caused a degradation of those values that the members of this Board of CBFC and chairperson stood for,” she wrote.

Asked if there was any pressure from the Central government, which is allegedly close to the producer of MSG the godman Insaan she said, “There was no direct pressure put on me by any official or political party. But, the inordinate speed and interest taken in passing this film is unprecedented.”

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, minister of state for information and broadcasting, challenged Leela Samson’s allegations. Speaking to the media, he said yesterday, “I would like to see one SMS or mail which suggests that a member has been coerced.’’

‘Fast-track’ clearance
Nandini Sardesai, a board member who was part of the revising committee (RC) that also rejected the film, is equally shocked with the tribunal’s nod.

She explained, “Usually, the tribunal screening takes two to three weeks, but within 24 hours of RC rejecting the film, it was screened and cleared. Though the I&B minister Raghuvendra Rathore said there was no political interference, who got the film cleared within a day? I am glad she (Samson) has taken a stand.”

Sardesai argued that the Mumbai regional officer, who headed the board’s examining committee, was not aware of the tribunal screening until an hour before it happened. “What about our credibility? We spend time to watch the film, and people from all walks of life are involved in this procedure.

We brainstorm over it. All this was overruled. It is nothing but mockery of the CBFC. This is only to encourage other godmen to make films on themselves,” she stated. According to an industry source, “Even a film like Rajneeti, which was referred to the tribunal, took three days to be cleared. This (quick clearance) has never happened in the past and is shocking.”

Industry speak

Ramesh Taurani, filmmaker
CBFC helps when we face problems after the certification process is over. I really don’t know anything about Leela Samson. The problem is between her and the board.

Jahnu Barua, filmmaker
I know Leela personally. She is a person of integrity and there could have been pressure on her to resign. Besides, I have been reading about irregularities in the CBFC. It should be independent of any political interference or pressure.

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