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Updated: March 31, 2011 02:04 IST

Bollywood asks if dancer can make the cut as film censor

Rana Siddiqui Zaman
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Leela Samson. File photo
The Hindu Leela Samson. File photo

Leela Samson's appointment as CBFC chief evokes mixed response from movie industry

The Union government's decision to appoint Leela Samson the next chair of the Central Board of Film Certification has evoked a mixed response from the movie industry, with some welcoming the novelty of a noted classical dancer as the country's chief film censor and others wondering whether she would be able to transcend the aesthetic divide between Bharatanatyam and Bollywood.

Ms. Samson's two-year tenure will begin from April 1.

“It is a break from tradition,” Sharmila Tagore, the outgoing CBFC chair told The Hindu. “A long time ago, the chairperson was a bureaucrat – who did an excellent job – but ever since, it has been someone from the Bombay film industry.” Her own predecessors have included such legends of the silver screen as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shakti Samanta, Asha Parekh and Anupam Kher.

“You must remember that there are two aspects here. One is the film industry, but the other is the viewing public and I'm sure that [Ms. Samson] is a discerning viewer of films,” said Ms. Tagore, adding that she was not part of the decision-making process. “We already have people from various fields – journalism, politics, professionals – on our boards, and I am sure they will all lend a helping hand.”

Asked for his reaction, Mr. Kher said he didn't know Ms. Samson and therefore it would be too early for him to make a judgment. “But I do know that she is a reputed classical dancer. We should first let her function for some time before commenting on her capabilities… Cribbing is our national pastime. Instead of welcoming her, we are casting aspersions on her. We have no right to assess her performance even before she has started performing.”

‘Tough road ahead'

Noted actor Farooque Shaikh feels the road ahead for Ms. Samson is going to be tough. “It will not be a bed of roses for her. It has never been for anyone. She will not be able to please everyone.” But Shaikh is dismissive of those who say only someone from the film fraternity should be CBFC chair. “She may not be actively involved in the film world; but she knows the norms that prevail in society, and is aesthetically inclined. She has a sense of things.”

Others from the acting industry have, however, reacted negatively. “Merely having aesthetic sensibilities is not enough,” said veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. “It is always better to choose a person who knows the film world inside out.”

‘Sensible decision'

Award-winning director Madhur Bhandarkar said the selection of Ms. Samson was a sensible decision. “Films have undergone tremendous change. I just hope she would be more liberal and modern in her approach in judging a film. As far as her not belonging to the world of films is concerned, it is immaterial. She belongs to a creative field, and that's what matters.”

Filmmaker Muzzaffar Ali, who immortalised classical dance in Hindi films with Umrao Jaan, made light of the debate over Ms. Samson's appointment. “Films go to the Censor Board for their last rites. What's the big deal if she too recites the final ritual?”

If Bollywood is ambivalent about the CBFC's new turn, classical artistes are not. Sharon Lowen, the renowned Odissi and Chhau dancer, strongly criticises those who are taking Ms. Samson's selection with a pinch of salt. “Though I don't know the criteria and qualification to chair the Censor Board, I can say with conviction that Leela has two most important qualities – common sense, which is so uncommon, and intelligence…I feel it is an intelligent decision because someone from outside the field, who doesn't know the people and their issues, may be fairer in his/her judgment than those who know the field and have an opinion on it.”

Odissi exponent Sonal Mansingh concurs. “I see no harm in a performing artiste chairing a responsible body like the Censor Board. She might bring a fresh outlook and ideas.”

‘Matter of sensibilities'

“It's a matter of sensibilities and not qualification,” said Madhup Mudgal, the noted classical vocalist. “That Leela doesn't qualify implies that she doesn't have sensibilities and the film world has. An artiste, who can see the nuances of one art form, can see the nuances of the other too.”

Multi-disciplinary artist Naresh Kapuria, who has known Ms. Samson since her childhood, vouches for her success. “She is an honest and dedicated artiste. She has risen through the ranks and understands the pain and sorrows of artistes…It is an insult to say that she wouldn't be able to judge films. Was she made chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi just like that?”

But here emerges the actual worry: Ms. Samson is already a chairperson of the prestigious Akademi and director of Kalakshetra too. Will she be able to ‘find' time for an industry that makes around 1000 films a year, and of diverse variety and genre?

[With input from Priscilla Jebaraj]

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