WHILE ONE SHOULD appreciate Anurag Kashyap’s sentiments when he speaks it being akin to being in North Korea when dealing with the censors , alas it can be no more than poetic licence on the wings of frustration and anger. In North Korea, Kashyap— starving, gaunt and enslaved—would actually be making movies that show filmmakers in ecstasy at being censored and he would believe it too.
The censors want ‘Punjab’ to be removed from the title Udta Punjab, a movie he has co-produced, and also names of the state’s cities dropped. Among other things, they don’t want a dog to be named ‘Jacky Chain’. Even so, Kashyap’s situation is true Indian.
The primary Indianism here is the very existence of the Censor Board in an age when children can access hard porn on their phones. You might call it Central Board of Film Certification, but that is just an Indian way of making an anachronism seem up to date. If, as defenders of the institution always say, this is just a certification body, why does it make cuts in almost every movie? Because it has to follow the law—the Cinematograph Act of 1952. So is it then a censoring body? No, because its mandate is only to certify movies, but till the Act is changed, Board members have to be certifiers who censor. Why won’t the Act be changed, ending this farce? Because the CBFC is a tool to control filmmaking, probably the most powerful cultural medium after television. It exists, like many government institutions, to broker power.
People are surprised that the Board’s Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, who has built himself a reputation for being shallow and scissor-happy—a dangerous combination for any artist to be up against—manages to survive despite the embarrassment he causes the Government that appointed him. That is precisely why he survives. So long as he is always watching out for anything potentially embarrassing to those who appointed him, it is the only reason needed to not replace him. In India, there is always a choice between loyalty and efficiency, and loyalty always wins.
Another instance of the Indian condition is Nihalani’s argument that the movie needs those changes because it brings a bad name to Punjab and the community, again making a seamless transition from certifier to censor. Punjab might have a serious drug problem among its youth, but the real danger is in showing it with Bollywood stars—that would make it real for millions of other Indians.
Some part of the blame must fall on Kashyap too. He is perhaps not Indian enough, like the late Raj Kapoor, who knew exactly which of the levers to pull to get a movie released untouched by anyone, naked breasts swaying under waterfalls included. That is the correct way in India. If the whole thing is a friends-and-family affair, then you might as well join the party.