Breach of propriety

August 17, 2015 12:17 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:16 pm IST

When the Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification, Pahlaj Nihalani, says that as a citizen who voted for Narendra Modi he has a right to express what he feels, who can possibly contest that? But as he >unabashedly lavishes praise on his action hero , Prime Minister Modi, he seems to forget that he is also the head of a statutory board with quasi-judicial powers — appointed by the BJP government this year. The CBFC regulates the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. It performs a critical role in setting standards for sensible, good cinema, and is often called upon to adjudicate on matters of film certification. There are many who believe Mr. Nihalani got the job literally for a song, that went along these lines: Har ghar Modi, ghar ghar Modi (In every house, a Modi; his a household name”). If the first song-documentary made in the run-up to the 2014 elections sought to whip up ultra-nationalistic sentiments, with larger-than-life images of Mr. Modi covering TV screens, a year later comes this sequel lionising and thanking him profusely for a job well done. Mr. Nihalani has already been in the news for his inability to get along even with other BJP-appointees on the Board; some of them termed him authoritarian and dictatorial. Till now, his achievements as Chairperson include >having given directions to remove cuss words from films, prompting sharp criticism from some CBFC members and the film fraternity at large. At a more fundamental level, Mr. Nihalani’s fulsome praise of the Prime Minister is unbecoming of the chair he occupies; after all, its occupants change with each political dispensation. Perhaps he is unaware of the weight of the job he has been entrusted with. As CBFC chairperson he cannot possibly be partisan to an ideology or a person.

That is not to say Mr. Nihalani is not entitled to his views. But there are questions to be asked on whether he is indeed equipped to dispassionately look at the world through a critical lens that his role demands. More important, if the Prime Minister would recall how the Congress under Indira Gandhi was reviled for the sycophancy that surrounded it, made memorable by the comment by one senior leader, “India is Indira and Indira is India”, perhaps he would want to distance himself from such crass eulogising — all the more when it comes from a man he has handpicked. The propaganda documentaries made by Mr. Nihalani, at best, can be avoided. The film-maker-producer known for his commercial potboilers would be better advised to set standards for cinema that would ensure a place for himself in posterity.

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