New Delhi: India’s Central Board of Film Certification, informally known as the film censor board, has asked the makers of a documentary film chronicling the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party to get a “no-objection certificate” (NoC) from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several other prominent politicians.
According to several media reports, censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani asked film-makers Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla to “delete all references to the BJP and Congress Party” from their movie and submit NoCs from Modi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit among others.
The film, titled ‘An Insignificant Man’, starts with the 2011 anti-corruption movement in India and goes onto cover the “birth of the Aam Aadmi Party, the NDA sweeping to power at the Centre and Kejriwal becoming the chief minister of Delhi”.
However, getting clearance from the CBFC has proven to be a challenge. According to the Mumbai Mirror, the film-makers had applied for certification in February 2017.
— An Insignificant Man (@aimthemovie) May 26, 2017
After some delay, the film was then sent to the revising committee for a special screening which Nihalani attended. It was then that Ranka and Shukla learnt that they would have to delete references to the BJP and Congress parties and get the NoCs.
“Is Mr Nihalani expecting the prime minister to do the censor chief’s job now? If any of the concerned parties, including Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal or Ms Dixit have a problem, they can challenge us in court. Why is the Censor Board acting as a watchdog for politicians and as the gatekeeper for the establishment? Its job is to certify films, not guard politicians. At least let them cite the exact scenes or statements they have a problem with, and which would require NoCs from these politicians,” Ranka told the Mumbai Mirror.
Several legal experts have expressed doubts over the legality of requiring Indian film-makers to get no-objection certificates from politicians.
There is no requirement for a NOC under the Cinematograph Act, Rules and the code. A fortiori, for public personalities. https://t.co/XA5Vpsbvlm
— Apar (@aparatbar) May 26, 2017
How can the Censor Board order filmmakers to get an "NOC from the PM"? I really hope they challenge this in court. https://t.co/NULncMGRSi
— Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) May 26, 2017
However, Nihalani defended the need to get permission under the grounds that the director-duo had used “real footage… including that of Parliament proceedings” and had also used the real names of politicians.
“When Karan Johar used Raveena Tandon’s name in a film, he got NoC from her. Ditto the makers of Jolly LLB 2 for a reference to Salman Khan. In this case, as they have referred to Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal, and Ms Sheila Dixit among others, they should get NoCs from them. They say they have permission to use the footage but we don’t know that for a fact. So the NoC is a reasonable demand,” Nihalani was reported as saying.
According to media reports, Shukla and Ranka are determined to see this through. “It’s sad that we have to go through all this in a mature democracy for a film which was made for India. To quote Henry Louis Gates, censorship is to art as lynching is to justice. We have been lynched but we will keep the battle going,” Ranka said.
CBFC under Nihalani
India’s film censor board has in the past been sharply criticised over the arbitrary nature of the cuts it makes to potentially-controversial films
In April this year, actor-director Amol Palekar challenged India’s censorship laws in the Supreme Court, arguing that decisions that the CBFC makes regarding cuts and denying certification are largely arbitrary in nature. The provisions of these laws, Palekar has said, have not been questioned in the last 47 years and have failed to keep up with the times.