Bharatanatyam dancer Leela Samson was chosen to head the Central Board of Film Certification after 25 to 30 people from different walks of life were approached for the job, according to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni. Several from the film world turned down the offer, citing a conflict of interest, she added.
Since the appointment was made public this week, many people, especially from Bollywood, have expressed surprise that someone with no experience of films was selected as India's top cinema censor.
However, Ms. Soni made it clear that while some of Bollywood's finest have held the post in recent years – actress Sharmila Tagore has just completed a six-year tenure – former chairpersons included IAS officers, Films Division personnel and even a Brigadier.
“We contacted 25 to 30 people from various fields. Some were willing, some were not,” said Ms. Soni. The hunt has been going on for two months, with Ms. Tagore originally scheduled to quit in early February.
“There was a feeling that those who were in films and headed [CBFC] experienced a certain conflict of interest…Some of those we contacted said, ‘We know everyone in the industry. It will be hard to ask someone we know to make cuts in their films and so on,” said the Minister.
Instead, the government picked someone “who has her feet firmly entrenched in the cultural ethos and traditions of India,” she added.
On her first day in her new job, Ms. Samson promised a balanced approach. “I believe any art form must have creative freedom, but at the same time, must be socially responsible,” she said. “I don't think anyone will feel that I've curbed their creative freedom. There won't be interference, but there will be responsibility.”
Ms. Samson doesn't expect to be involved in the nitty-gritties of film ratings – that is up to the regular viewing panels, and she already holds two other positions as director of Chennai dance school Kalakshetra and chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi – but she does intend to influence the thrust and direction of policy.
One of her first jobs will be to give her input to the amendments to the CBFC Act, which is almost ready to be submitted to the Cabinet.