Bollywood folk talk about working around Censor laws
In the light of the recent Censor Board issues and the growing gap between the government and the film industry, six outspoken industry folk met to discuss what ails the system and how to redress it
Q. We need to find solutions to the issues which have been pending for long. Is there a communication gap between the members of the Censor Board and the producers?
Shabana Azmi: Let's look at the larger picture. In a democracy, there is freedom of expression and it has to be safeguarded as said in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, but there is no such thing as absolute freedom. It is done with reasonable restraint even within Article 19. It, itself, celebrates the fact that all creative artistes within them have some kind of regulation which says this is not recommended for kids, etc. Now what we are looking at is basically freedom of expression rather than film certification. Three to four years ago, I had stated that we have to stop calling it the Censor Board because that suggests implicitly that your job is to censor. It is a film certification board as their job is to certify according to appropriate ages — that is their business. When you keep referring it as the Censor Board, then you keep thinking that it is my mandate and find objectionable stuff. What we have adopted as the system of film certification needs to be revisited. We are following the UK system of film certification. It means that there is one chairperson and then there are 30-odd members or how many ever members you want who are selected. They are supposed to be reasonable people from society whom you respect. There all kinds of drama people and litterateurs and not necessarily people belonging to the film fraternity — that I think is basically the fault. What happens is when my party comes into power, Ichoose in that board people who share my political dispensation, which essentially means that every five years we are subjecting the morality of the country to political dispensation of their rule. It is not important which party it is, but this is unacceptable for one billion people to be subject to the political dispensation of the day and the morality being judged. This is the problem. Now what can we do? I think the time is now ripe that we closely look at what USA is doing. They have a self-regulatory body that has people within the film industry and also sociologists. The business of cinema is the business of images and we know pictures speak at subliminal levels much more than any amount of words. For instance, I constantly believe that violence around the corner is suggestive and violence is far more effective than graphic violence. Why do we not start a dialogue to have a self-regulatory body from within the industry and outside? I know it is not easy nor will it happen the next day. I have been a member of the Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) since the last three years and it has a liberal group of members. When things come to us, whether it is from the ministry or from the public, we call them and talk to them. We tell them you will shift it to the graveyard hour because it is not appropriate. So you either shift or don't show it. There has been 98 per cent compliance because people know that if it reaches the ministry they will be in trouble. My suggestion would be to overhaul the system. The Justice Mudgal Committee which was set up during the UPA government has done a lot of ground work to revisit the Cinematograph Act. We should look at it carefully. What firm proposal can we give to the ministry? It is we who are directly affected and we need to overhaul the picture as we know better.
Ashwini Yardi, Chandraprakash Dwivedi, Mukesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi, Anubhav Sinha and Hansal Mehta. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Q. The draft of guidelines was apparently ready in 2010, but nothing has moved on that front.
Mukesh Bhatt: As Shabana rightly says, whatever party it is, the tragedy is that the entertainment world is the last on their priority list. We don't exist on their list and are always put on the backburner.
Shabana: But we are safe also because of that. It is said that the government has no job in films, it really should not have. If we let the state start interfering beyond a point, we are doomed.
Anubhav Sinha: I had asked the Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) seminar what do you do for us? You call us an industry. Have you ever told a banking sector that you have to invest 200-crore in the entertainment industry?
Shabana: They did, of course, when we got industry status.
Anubhav: What I am saying is that there is a certificate called PG15, which has been pending in parliament for 200 years — PG15 is between A and U/A. Whenever its discussion comes up, people abuse and ask the people to sit. They are not able to sort out their issues, so expecting a PG15 certificate is difficult.
Shabana: You have come up with something important Anubhav, because we have so many people who are members of parliament. Why do we not get all the members and tell them our issues? They are expected to talk about the film industry.
Anubhav: So the first and very important thing we should do is meet all these members and put our issues in front of them. We have never spoken to them about our issues.
Hansal: When this government came into power, Prakash Javadekar, who was the I&B minister then questioned the ministry's existence. He said the I&B ministry should not exist, but why? Doesn't the I&B ministry need the lobbying and representation within the government body? If you are questioning the existence of a Central ministry for I&B, it tells you how important it is in the scheme of things.
Shabana: Why does a film institute need to be under the I&B ministry? It should be in HRD. It should have the same value that any other IIM degree has. What is the meaning of the film institute which is under the government and where they spend more than 20 lakh per student?
Q Anubhav, do you agree?
Anubhav: I have always been vary of too much democracy. Too much democracy is chaotic. It's a very noble thought, but I am not too sure if we can have people without agendas. We are a strange industry. We are only busy finding how much business someone else's film has done. So, I doubt people will clean-heartedly talk about a film.
Q But at least we will have better chances than now — where people who are far removed from the reality of what is happening.
Anubhav: Yes, that is correct. Now when I see the members, I don't know the people sitting there. How are they related to cinema?
Ashwini: I want to add to what Shabana has said about the US system. The director can always say, "I don't want to cut this as this is how I visualise my film." The producer will then say, "No, I want it like this because my business will come from there and I need a U/A." So somewhere we have to draw a line between a director and a producer.
Mukesh: I want to ask a simple question to Chandra Prakash. I am a filmmaker and give an ad in the papers that my film has an A certificate because of violence or because it's a sex comedy or because it has got lovemaking scenes. As an adult, don't I have the fundamental right to see it? I feel offended if you inflict a point decimal of a cut, as it means you are telling me that I am not a mature adult to see that. I am asking this as an audience, not even as a filmmaker. Do I have this right or not? Who gives them the power to control? A true democracy is not controlling, but regulating. There is a difference between the two. If you do controlling, then you are going the Middle East way.
Shabana: Especially when it's not for free, I am making a choice to pay and watch it.
Anubhav: These days they watch your film and say cut the violence to 50 per cent. So we take 200 per cent and then at times they say nothing. It happened with me. The length of my film was increased fearing 50 per cent cuts, but I didn't want that much of sexual content in the film. Now if I am running short of time, or I want to go to my original length, I have to go for film re-certification, but because it was only one or two minutes long, it is not much of a bother.
Mukesh: Anushka Sharma told me that for her film NH10, she was initially given a U/A certificate, but she was told the villain slaps the girl thrice, so make it just once. He is pulling her hair for three minutes, curtail it to one minute. What are you achieving by doing that? The villain is from a regressive mindset and is calling her kutti. That was asked to be removed. Forget the other stronger cuss words — even saali was removed.
Hansal: What kind of cuss word is Shivaji Maharaj? I was asked to remove that from my film.
Chandra Prakash Dwivedi: I will have to work on this for a few more months. I will collect a list of cuss words which are part of our history. Having said that, let me tell you there is not a single member on the board who does not agree with the sentiment of the Hindi film industry. Even in the first meeting, we did not have too much time to discuss on every issue. The agenda was to rectify the resolution of the first meeting. Every single word that has been spoken here has been discussed partially in the last meeting which happened in January. We, the members and the ministry, are thinking on the same lines. I don't want to drag the minister and ministry into this because it's an autonomous body. We need some more time for discussion. I am happy all this happened as a lot of people were accepting what they should have not accepted. People accept and do not go to the tribunal because it takes time. We discussed that can we fix a time for examining the revision, tribunal and then for the court? Why are there gaps of months? When MSG: The Messenger was taken up by the tribunal in a day, there was a lot of noise that there was partiality. I commented that we should be happy that the tribunal has taken it up in one day. We think the Censor Board is the final authority — it is not. Once your film goes into revision and if you have any objection to the certification, the matter goes to the tribunal. We want to get rid of this certification board. We want to evolve as a classification board as some of the members terms are over.
Mukesh: With the terms of the members getting over and the new set about to come, I want to know who are those members going to be? Are they going to be a part of one particular mindset? Are they going to have an agenda from a political party?
Hansal: What is the process of appointing the board members?
Chandra Prakash: The board is appointed by the government. Even the advisory panel is appointed the same way. For the first time, the board has requested the government that can we make some recommendations. Every board member can make a recommendation. I recommended film journalists — those who understand cinema. I have suggested some surgeons also. Whether to accept or reject is the decision of the ministry. But for the first time, on January 23, the board agreed that we will give you names of 35 people each which will be collected by the chairman and forwarded to the ministry. We have also discussed the rating system. There were certain recommendations that before we jump into the American system, lets adopt the system of UK properly. In the American board, all the members are from the film fraternity, in the UK board there are members from the industry and some representatives of the government. The board will discuss it in the next meeting. People were inclined to begin with the UK system first in the last meeting.
Shabana: But we are already following the UK system.
Chandra Prakash Dwivedi: No, not completely. There is no representation from the film industry in the board. We, by default, belong to the film industry. This has not happened that we have asked people to recommend names from the industry. Most of the people on the board this time are related to the film industry so the communication becomes easy. Certification we have also identified. About the percentage to cut, what Anubhav said, we have discussed. A point which was raised is that we should stop this negotiation. I said that's a democratic right of a director that he explains the film from his point of view. Opinions change.
Shabana: You are right. A friend, who was on the board, told me that they listen carefully the intention of the filmmaker and they change their opinion after that. I don't think you should do away with negotiation.
Anubhav: The last time I went to the board they asked me to sit. In 11 years it's the first time they asked me to sit.
Shabana: Otherwise you have to stand? What!
Anubhav: Yes, when we go inside we stand and four to five members sit and give their viewpoint.
Chandra Prakash: I revised three films and made the filmmaker comfortable. I told them don't react to what I say instantly. Take 10 minutes to think. If you do not agree to what I say, come and tell us again. People don't even know that revision is not final.
Hansal: Some people know, but they go for it because it takes a lot of time.
Chandra Prakash: So this time we made a proposal to discuss within the board and also with the minister to set up a time frame. How much time will we take to review a film? Suppose we say that this will happen within 48 hours. Probably then the producer will not hesitate to go to the Tribunal. Thankfully, the I & B minister Mr Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore understood the seriousness of the situation. He asked me what had happened earlier and how much time did it take. I told him that why can't we have a board which works on Sundays. He said that was possible.
Shabana Azmi, Hansal Mehta and Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Q But there are filmmakers also who don't submit films on time.
Chandra Prakash: It was discussed that we should give priority to the films releasing first. If you want to jump the queue, you pay a fee. All these recommendation will go to the board.
Mukesh: There are no budgets for the board. They are short-staffed. They don't have budgets to hire more people. As the members cannot take decisions, they are scared of whatever reasons and their work also becomes double. What can be cleared in examining, unnecessarily goes for revision. You need to do some introspection there. The revising panel are more bolder people, but you need more bolder people in the examining committee as well.
Q Where has this list of cuss words come from?
Chandra Prakash: In 2003, all the ROs had prepared the list which was never sent to the board and the government. Somehow someone gave this list to the chairman and he thought it was approved. The matter came to light during the meeting that it has not been approved by the board. That's why the circular was sent that it will not be implemented till the time it is reviewed and approved.
Q Also, in the past few years there has been lack of unity between the producers.
Mukesh: This initiative was taken by me. What has happened to Anushka can happen to us tomorrow. We are investing crores of rupees and somebody comes and interprets the guidelines with his whims and fancies that should not happen. The guidelines should be clear because today filmmaking is crores of rupees. I am investing so much money in something and I don't know towards the end, it will change into something else.
Shabana: This is also the appropriate time to discuss that we are taking on the board — that is our immediate problem. But the state has failed its duty protecting is own certificate. If you, as a state, has passed a certificate it is your business to protect it. What is the meaning of you giving me a certificate, if 10 people can get up and say we will shut your theatre? The state has to understand that it is an important issue which it doesn't. Ten people can stand outside the theatre and say that don't watch this film, but you cannot vandalise the theatre. This to me is even more violent. The media has an important role as they have to consider what role it will have on the public. A while back, Nelson Mandela had kissed me on my cheek. In the picture it appeared as if he is almost kissing on my mouth. There was some Muslim group which said there is a fatwa against Shabana Azmi and she has to apologise. It was front page news. I asked the newspaper, did you even check which group is that? What happens is when such people get a chance to be on television or in newspapers — all it requires is 10 people.
Chandra Prakash: I also want to add why 10 people from our fraternity don't stand outside the theatre against them. That also we should do. This is a law and order situation. In the matter of PK, no government interfered and said if you have a problem go to the court.
Mukesh: I want to ask this to Chandra Prakash. Can I as a filmmaker think, write and execute an adult film? Can an adult film be made without any fear psychosis?
Shabana: I don't think there is an absolute. There has to be self-regulation within you. The way the camera moves on the fragmented images of a woman's body in the item songs it commodifies and objectifies her. You cannot say, "Main tandoori murg hoon, mujhey gatkale alchohol ke saath," and say that it is not leading to the sexualisation. In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Katrina Kaif is a diving instructor and comes out of the water dripping wet. Never does the camera go on to her bosom or leg, it just catches her midshot as she wears her gown and you feel here is a woman who is doing her job. Filmmakers do not exercise that. Something we have to do on our own also.
Hansal: I want to know what is the definition of morality? In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, the word lesbian was muted.
Chandra Prakash: The producer should have objected. Time constraints can be an issue, I agree. There was some major cuts in my film, I fought with them. I took the certificate without a single cut. You can make an adult film, yes! There are people in the board who have said that while you are examining a film, don't look at the Cinematograph Act. I made it a point with the ministry that a member should represent India and not one particular community.
Hansal: I have written a lot of letters and have never got any reply. The answers I have got are ridiculous. One of the answers I had got was as earlier films with kissing and violence have got U/A certificate, we decided to give you a U/A certificate.
Mukesh: From this conversation, I feel we had a healthy meeting and it is heartening to know that a discussion like this is happening finally in the fraternity. I feel more assured that I can make the film. Shabana rightly said some filmmakers misuse; we should exercise self-control.
Ashwini: I wanted to bring the animal certification thing, because there is no clarity. For OMG - Oh My God! I was asked to show an okay for the ants shown. I went mental by the end of the film.
Anubhav: I had a crocodile which was computer generated. I had to use a super for that too. Ban smoking in the country if you can, then talk about censorship in films.
Q. So, why do you think the film industry is a soft target?
Anubhav: Because we don't talk.
Shabana: Don't talk, we are crazy. We have so many MPs.
Anubhav: So who is taking responsibility of calling these MPs and setting up the meeting?
Q.What do you think is the way forward?
Shabana: I think we should talk to the members.
Mukesh: First thing, I would like to say is thank-you and now I am going to harass you more and more because I know how much you can contribute. This is the need of the hour.
Shabana: But first you have to sensitise the MPs. Ask questions in the question hour about the film industry. What you can do is to ask Javed Akhtar to ask a question. Javed will ask 15 other people in parliament to ask supplementary questions. This is how it works. This way we can end up discussing about our industry for half an hour under the form of a question. Within six months the minister has to answer.
Anubhav: This meeting has to happen, let's do it please.
Shabana: Let's write down the names of all the MPs from the industry. Mukesh you should call the MPs and tell them what they should ask. You need some people who can compile questions because we have to send the questions two months before the session starts.
Hansal: In the way forward to change the act, it will take a lot of time. Meanwhile, we need to audit the classification and certification also. There has to be a body that should be appointed which audits compliance. We should have an internal audit also.