I don't mind being called conservative: Pahlaj Nihalani

The newly appointed Censor Board of Film Certificate (CBFC) chairman, who's sees a "guardian" in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also believes that in the name of modern one should not sell his/culture. He proposes an "umbrella" system of censorship to control material across platforms to check obscenity and denigration of Indian culture.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:31 pm IST

Published - January 26, 2015 12:49 pm IST

Mumbai, Maharashtra,  22/11/2014:  Pahlaj Nihalani, New censor board chairperson, in Mumbai.  Photo:  Vivek Bendre

Mumbai, Maharashtra, 22/11/2014: Pahlaj Nihalani, New censor board chairperson, in Mumbai. Photo: Vivek Bendre

"I don't mind being called conservative, if it is in national interest," says Pahlaj Nihalani, in a hint that offense to "Indian culture" would not be tolerated while clearing films.

Excerpts from a chat.

TH: You made stinging remarks about the outgoing Censor Board chairman Leela Samson and her team. You say they did not do their job. What new do you promise?

PN: Whatever I said was before taking this chair. Now I'm not against anyone. I have to prove myself and work for the clean image of the Board. Take the right decisions. We will educate our people and hold workshops. I will recommend to the Ministry (Information and Broadcasting) to appoint members to attain the full-strength of the Board. The last chairman hardly visited office, maybe just three-four days in her tenure. In contrast, I am known for being a task-master. Those working here should know that times have changed and we need to give results to the government, like how the PM wants things for the country, in the right manner.

TH: Your focus, among other things, would be on controlling the use of dialogues with "double meanings" in films. You say they are often offensive. Don't you think people might accuse you of being too conservative?

PN: I don't mind being called that if I have to serve the nation. You have to take care of the new generation, on whom the future of the country depends. So how can we allow ourselves to give them wrong education? The censor board is very liberal. But what is the modern generation watching? We are giving them the license to see anything. How is this projecting our culture? There are free channels for all this. But this is cinema. Everything is free online and as you can see the youth is misusing it. Even for the online platform, I feel there should be rules and without censorship material should not be uploaded.

TH: So we can expect you to be a bit strict with the bold and outrageous?

PN: I will give the right kind of content. I will monitor the sensitive things that might harm the society. Today there is a lot of focus on "double-meaning" dialogues, gaaliyan (abuses) and other offensive material are freely used.

But they are not modern. Yes, we have to move ahead with the "modern' but in the name of modern we can't barter our country. We can't sell our culture.

Q: That will make you unpopular with the industry.

PN: Look, I have to first keep in mind the interests of the nation. Then comes the industry, that's my business. Films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Maine Pyar Kiya and Three Idiots, why did these films work? Content works. Why was Singham appreciated? Because it was a very clean movie. People loved to watch it along with the family. Yes, you can make a masala movie-- Singham was a total masala movie but it was a dignity to watch. There are so many nice movies with the right mix of action, tempo and views.

TH: So you say, you can make a masala movie as long as it is within the parameters of decency?

PN: Ofcourse. You can make whatever film you want. But how many films are the people appreciating? The success ratio is only 10 percent--that also in what is considered good cinema. The rest 90 percent are flops and rejected by the people. Being an industry man I know both sides of the issue, so I'm giving you the view of a producer.

Q. But don't you think you need a balance?

PN: I'm not against any expression. But in the name of expression, you don't barter your culture.

TH: Recently, films like PK and Haider were in controversy. Although there was nothing 'explicitly obscene' in these films there was much furore for other reasons. How can the censor board come in in cases like these?

PN: If you don't appoint members according to the story line of the film, the right committee, such controversies will emerge. You require the direct expertise of the subjects. Appointments (to the committee) should be made according to that. Censorship doesn't mean that you carry on board members who are mere cinema lovers, just for the sake of giving uncensored films. We want experts.

For instance, if it is a police background film, you must appoint one member who knows about the department. This will help.

TH: There is an explosion of content on the internet. You plan to control that as well?

PN: I'm talking about the material that is uploaded. For instance, take Sunny Leone. We accepted her as an artist. And with her popularity, everybody, from school kids to grown ups, have watched her sites (adult films). People are paying money to watch her. How can there be tolerance for all this? What will the new generation learn?

On television, they watch content without any censor. Many live programmes come without censor, especial the comedy and fashion shows. So much vulgarity they show on TV. On many live shows you can see short skirts and lingerie. How can you tolerate all this? What is the meaning of censorship then?

So, I am calling for an umbrella policy to censor material on all platforms. A uniform policy. Be liberal here and restrict elsewhere, doesn't work. I'm not against anyone. But the form should be the same for everyone. Or else people manipulate things.

TH: There is a BJP government in power. There is bound to be a filmmaker who disagrees with the government agenda.

PN: That doesn't matter. This is an independent institution. Somebody will like me. Others might dislike me. This is a country with 125 crore people. Every citizen has the right to express his/her views.

TH: You praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi as your "action hero." You are a big fan of him. Aren't you making your political leaning a bit too obvious?

PN: I was only talking about my feelings, in what I believe. From the heart. I don't know what people think about it, whether I'm doing something wrong. I'm ready to leave if they think so. I'm from the film industry. If I don't like you I will say it. If I like you I will say it. Everybody, every big or small man in the industry, is my friend. And in the last 22 years (of holding office of various Film boards) I have not done any favour to anyone. So how can I favour them now? I believe in an agenda. I fight for the cause.

TH: Some of your colleagues are direct members of BJP while others are open RSS sympathizers. Don't you think filmmakers have reason to be apprehensive or concerned by this homogeneity of ideology?

PN: How many BJP people did they appoint in the last government? None. Then? Before the general elections I came out in support of Modiji. Because we have seen his work. The UPA has done nothing for the film industry in the last 60 years. It is a Rs 1000-1500 crore industry today, mainly due to the Vajpayee government. Be it in providing it status, or bank finances, or allowing us to import equipment while freeing export policy. There is nothing wrong in a government supporting the industry. Every budget under the NDA had something for the film industry. I'm not a member of the BJP. I follow them as a citizen. Many people followed and voted for the BJP government. So each one of them will now expect a reward?

TH: But you did come out openly and create a song for Modi.

PN: It was my personal vision. The party did not support me. It was totally my vision, my thinking. It was my requirement what the nation wants. I made the manifesto of my vision. It has been tallied on that. I didn't get the permission for that release. But even so through social media I released the cassettes and dispatched them to all the Lok Sabha constituencies throughout India. except in Delhi. It became a popular song. But this was done without the endorsement of any party.

TH: Do you agree with the BJP-RSS ideology?

PN: I only believe that India has got a leader after Nehru, Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Vajpayee. You can feel somebody's guardian is here. I feel that he (Modi) is a guardian. He will do something, I believed in him. So it’s my belief that has come true. I have been active in all kinds of social work and have raised funds for causes, including the Bhuj earthquake, and the Tsunami. I have always come forward to work. It is not in particular for the BJP or the Congress. It is for the nation. Whatever allegations are coming up against me, they are welcome, it is an open forum. I am not affected by anything.

TH: Did you have a say in selecting the members? Any changes coming up?

PN: We are working on the process that already exists. We are trying to get the notification, for changes and strengthening the board, as soon as possible. That will take little time but the process has started for working on the right system.

TH: There is a point of view of some filmmakers, for example Shyam Benegal is one of them, who say there is no requirement for a censor board. It should be free- if you don’t like something, don’t watch it.

PN: Even after getting the censor certificate we see that many films have misfired. For instance, take PK. If there was no censor board wouldn't the country have burned? It could have led to violence. It is good for the filmmakers, the board.

We don't require a censor board? Does it mean that the UK is not liberal? USA does not require censor certificate? If filmmakers want changes, we can suggest changes that the government can initiate. If you are not happy with the rating, let us know.

TH: On your Facebook profile, you have endorsed the controversial Baba Ram Rahim Singh Insan's cleanliness drive. Do you support him? What can we read out of it amid the recent controversy over his film and the resignation of the previous chairman?

PN: First of all, I'm a social worker. And this (Safai) Abhiyaan is also part of my work. Many people have been inspired by the Safai Abhiyaan started by the PM. And this fellow also thought about it and participated in the drive. Now since I'm an industry representative he asked me to participate in it. It was last month. I had not anticipated then I would be on the Censor Board. I wanted the film industry to join the cause. Our (Ram Rahim's and PN's) mottos are the same-we both work on human trafficking and drugs.

Whatever work I did I put it up on Facebook openly. I support the cause, not the Baba. The film (Messenger of God) had gone to the tribunal. It has cleared him. Still he is yet to get the certificate. So where have I done any favour to him?

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