Even as the Government challenged Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) `chairperson’ Leela Samson to prove her allegations, her decision to step down is expected to trigger a slew of resignations from the Board over the weekend. Already, one member, Ira Bhasker, is learnt to have stepped down.
Citing "interference, coercion’’ besides corruption of panel members and officers of the organization appointed by the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, Ms. Samson sent in her resignation on Thursday night soon after word came that the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) had cleared the release of the film MSG - The Messenger of God featuring Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan.
The film was initially scheduled for release today but was postponed after the `Examining Committee’ and the `Revising Committee’ of the CBFC rejected certification for the film. The `Revising Committee’ referred the film to FCAT last Tuesday and what has stunned Ms. Samson and other members of the Board is the speed at which the tribunal cleared the film.
"It usually takes FCAT several weeks to clear a film referred to it,’’ said one member who did not want to be quoted.
Meanwhile, the premiere of the film that was hurriedly sought to be organised in the satellite township of Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi, on Friday evening was cancelled at the eleventh hour as necessary formalities had not been completed. The Dera chief told his followers who had gathered there in large numbers that the date of the premiere and release of the film would be announced later. Prior to FCAT approval, the Dera had rescheduled the release of the film for January 23 but from what Ram Rahim told his followers that could also now change.
The FCAT’s decision drew sporadic protests in many parts of Punjab and Haryana. The Akal Takht had in December sought a ban on the movie by the godman who had first hurt the sentiments of the community when he had allegedly dressed up like the Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Several radical Sikh organizations like the Dal Khalsa and the Peer Mohammad faction of the All India Sikh Students Federation had also supported the demand then.
As the Government drew flak for the charges levelled by Ms. Samson, Union Minister of State for I&B Rajyavardhan Rathore countered by asking her to show a "letter or an SMS’’ to prove that the government had been ignoring the CBFC’s requests and preventing the Board from meeting for the past nine months. Two CBFC members confirmed to The Hindu that the Board had not met even once in the past nine months.
Ms. Samson's three-year term and that of many of the Board members had ended in May 2014. In July, the Ministry had informed the Board members that their term was being extended ``till further notice''.
Recently, the Board had also come under pressure from members of the Sangh Parivar over the Amir Khan-starrer `PK'. At that point, Ms. Samson had gone on record stating that no scene from the film would be removed as it had already been released.
In the midst of the controversy, she had said over a fortnight ago that: ``Every film may hurt religious sentiments of somebody or the other. We can't remove scenes unnecessarily because there is something called creative endeavour where people present things in their own way. We have already given certificate to `PK' and we can't remove anything now because it's already out for public viewing.''