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Udta Punjab: Why the Tussle Between Censor Board and Bollywood

June 13, 2016

Udta Punjab Controversy Bollywood vs Censor Board

The Bollywood fraternity joined hands to counter the Censor Board after the latter made public its decision to make 89 cuts in the  film Udta Punjab. Starring Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor, the film has been produced by Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films and Balaji Motion Pictures, and directed by Abhishek Chaubey of Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya fame. Much of the debate surrounding the Censor Board’s proposed cuts is centred on the supposed arbitrary nature of its decisions.

Kashyap vs. Censor Board

This is not the first time Kashyap has locked horns with the Censor Board. It happened first during the release of Paanch, his first film, which faced plenty of problems with the Censor Board before it got released eventually. Even in the case of Black Friday there was a two year gap before the film saw light of the day. Ugly, another film by Kashyap, faced objections from the Censor Board because of its smoking scenes.

Kashyap has challenged the Board’s orders to make the aforementioned cuts in his next and upcoming movie Udta Punjab. One of the major reasons why the film may have run into choppy waters is because it depicts the state of Punjab as afflicted with rampant drug abuse. After approaching the Bombay High Court over this issue, Kashyap was given a written text specifying the changes he was supposed to make. Kashyap had previously stated that he had received only verbal intimation. He had requested the Court to overrule the Board’s decision to make 94 cuts to the film.

Censor Board’s Take

Pahlaj Nihalini, the Censor Board chief, had stated in a newspaper interview that the movie’s depiction of massive drug abuse in Punjab was inaccurate and defamatory of the state’s people. He also charged Kashyap with trying to stir controversy in order to garner interest for his film. The Board also received support of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which called it a body full of experts and termed it a quasi-judicial body. Among the various changes it had asked the producer to also drop the name Punjab from the film’s title.

Hollywood films censured by Censor Board

Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino was received negatively by the Censor Board and a minute and half’s footage had to be cut from the film. A long kissing scene featuring Monica Bellucci and Daniel Craig in Spectre, a James Bond, had to be cut but Danish Girl, a film chosen for Oscars, was shown without any cuts. This is quite strange given the fact that the film depicts complete frontal nudity.

Different parameters for Bollywood and Hollywood

As opposed to Hollywood, the rules and regulation for showing films are rather stringent and authorities often object to scenes that they feel are repulsive. In case of films that have graphic content there can be a complete ban. In Hollywood, films are marked a certain way if the authorities feel that it can only be watched by people of a certain age, community or social group. In India the focus is more on social norms and keeping them intact in films. Anything that according to them violates those values and norms has to be either changed or chopped off.

Questions about role of the film industry

Regardless of what is being said in the context, Bollywood has shown that it stands firm against what it feels is an injudicious and unjustifiable demand from the Censor Board regarding Udta Punjab. It also showed some steely determination in ending the whole affair in a logical manner.

Some experts have, however, also blamed the film industry for letting the situation escalate. These people have said that previously too the Censor Board had straightaway banned many films – and thus overstepped its jurisdiction – but Bollywood never showed such definitive unity back then. They are asking as to why the film industry reacted in such a way about Udta Punjab then. These critics have also pointed out that more often than not the alternative films – as opposed to their mainstream brethren – are the ones to feel the Censor Board’s wrath.

Bombay High Court verdict

While CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani declared that the Censor board has cleared the movie with 13 cuts under the ‘A’ category, the Bombay High Court has openly questioned the Board’s role in this matter. It passed the film with a single cut and slight change in the disclaimer. This could be regarded as a firm validation of the efforts made by some of the prominent members of the film fraternity against the supposed autocracy of the Censor Board. What remains to be seen is whether this verdict is going to have any effect on the way the Board functions and regards the creative freedom of filmmakers.

Udta Punjab is due for release on 17 June.

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I am from Kolkata. Like any other Bengali I love my fish, eggs and bhaat and sweets but I also feel proud to be a part of the biggest melting pot of the world - India. It is true that I need to go a long way before I finally call it a day but I have come some way and am sure will travel further. Cheers :)

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