October 25, 2016
By: Pranav Bohra and Soor Vora
A film, translated “Flying Punjab,” has its wings clipped.
Who: Producer Anurag Kashyap and CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani
What: Udta Punjab
When: June 2016
Why: Profanity, Political Views, and, Immoral Activities
“Censorship is when a work of art expressing an idea which does not fall under current convention is seized, cut up, withdrawn, impounded, ignored, maligned, or otherwise made inaccessible to its audience.”
— Ritu Menon, for Women’s World Organization for Rights,
Literature, and Development
Directed by Abhishek Chaubey and produced by Anurag Kashyap, Udta Punjab explores the harsh realities of drug abuse in the Indian state of Punjab. The film uses a relatively new application of story-telling for Bollywood: it shows how the lives of a rockstar, a cop, a doctor and a laborer are connected. It shows four different people who are brought together by the impact of drugs on their life.
Graphic and deep, the film depicts scenes of drug usage and incorporates a lot of profanity. In addition, there are many references to Indian geography and politics. These concerns combined made the film a target for censorship. In fact, initially, the Indian Censor Board demanded 94 cuts so that the movie could become certified for public display. Despite demanding the 94 cuts the board had given the movie an “A” (above 18 years of age) rating.
This censorship of Udta Punjab led to a major uproar of opposition from the directors and producers of the film, which developed into to a battle between producer Anurag Kashyap and the Indian Censorship Board, the central body behind Indian film censorship, over the value of freedom of expression versus the need for protection. The film’s makers were furious at the board’s decision, so they appealed to the Bombay High Court. While the results were in favor of the movie makers—the 94 cuts were reduced to just 13—the “A” rating remained. The case of Udta Punjab calls into question whether or not the Indian Censorship Board abused its powers in its censorship of the film and the role of political influence in the working of the board.
Currently India maintains The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), also more commonly referred to as the censor board. The CBFC is the sole legal censorship and certification body. The CBFC acts under the Government of India’s ministry of information and broadcasting. According to the law, only the films that have been certified by the CBFC can be showcased to the public, and even the movies shown on television must be certified by the CBFC.
The CBFC came into life in 1920 after the Indian Cinematography Act was passed. The Police chiefs were given the responsibility of running the board in different cities. The regional censor boards were independent. In the post-independence era, these regional boards consolidated under the Bombay Board of Film Censors. Once the Cinematography Act of 1952 was legally adopted, the Central Board of Film Censors was formed. However, in 1983 the cinematographic laws were changed. Since then Censor Board became known as the Central Board of Film Certification.
According to the Cinematography Act of 1952, the CBFC’s role is to certify or rate the movies on the basis of the movie’s appropriateness for different age groups. It rates them as ‘A’ Adult, ‘U’-universal, ‘UA’-Universal under adult supervision, and so on.
The CBFC has three panels:
1. Examining committee
2. Revising committee
3. Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT)
First, the examining committee certifies a movie. It consists of five members, but the chairman of the CBFC is not included in this committee. If the examining committee rejects a movie from certification, then the revising committee comes into play. In this panel, new members are present, including the chairman. The identity of these members is protected from the public. This panel holds the power to refuse certification if the filmmakers do not agree to the demanded cuts by the panel. The 3rd panel is the FCAT, which consists of senior movie industry members and retired judges. Even if the FCAT refuses certification, the filmmakers can appeal in the high court or supreme court if they feel there has been an unfavorable verdict. The CBFC is seen as one of the most influential film censorship boards in the world, as its regulations are strict (Livemint 2016).
There are many reasons that censor boards see it necessary to police Bollywood films. The CBFC feels the need to censor films in large part because of the weight of films on the Indian populace. According to the Encyclopedia of Censorship, “Given its 64 percent national illiteracy, India’s radio and television are far more important than its press,” and the Bollywood industry is extremely large and influential (Green 275). Increased accessibility to films raises a concern for the community, there are many elements shown in movies and films that are not fit for a young audience. This leads to censorship and certification of films. In his book A Beginner’s Guide to Censorship, Julian Petley asserted that, “Cinema is a form of popular culture, and the more popular a cultural form, the more likely it is to attract the attentions of the censorious” (47). With the change in eras of film, the definition of what is suitable for the audience has also changed, but the existence of censorship has remained a continuity.
The attention given to this popular cultural form can be seen by the censorship of Udta Punjab. The table below (Table 1) shows some of the cuts the CBFC initially demanded.
|S.No||Description of the Cut|
|1.||Delete sign-board of ‘Punjab’ in the beginning. The sign board showing ‘Punjab’ in the beginning scene would be removed.|
|2.||Any reference to the actual regions and cities in Punjab like Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Tarantaran, Jashanpura, Ambesar, Ludhiana and Molga should be deleted wherever they appear. Whether in the background or dialogues.|
|3.||Cuss words should be removed.|
|4.||The words ‘election’, ‘MP’, ‘party’, ‘MLA’, ‘Punjab’, ‘Parliament’ should be deleted|
|5.||The close-up shots of injecting the drugs should be removed wherever they appear.|
|6.||The shot where ‘Tommy Singh’ is seen to urinate in front of the crowd should be deleted.|
|7.||The line ‘Jamin Banzar te Aulad Kanjar’ when translated into English reads ‘the lands are dry but kids are high’ should be deleted.|
|8.||Delete the name of the dog as ‘Jackie Chan’.|
Table 1: list of cuts initially demanded (“Udta Punjab Ban: Here Is What CBFC Does Not Want To Show The World”)(Express Web Desk)
Figure 4: Film Trailer
Despite the original 94 cuts, Udta Punjab made 13 cuts to the final film, including the urination scene and objectionable language (Express Web Desk). In effect, these cuts ensure that none of the bad morals being censored are seen as okay. However, they also serve to give a somewhat unrealistic depiction of the situations being focused on. One of the main goals of Indian film censorship is to discourage “wrong actions.”
Other cuts had significant impacts in different ways. The cutting of a lot of city names and references to the state of Punjab lessened the affiliation of the film with the Punjab region. These omissions were related to the release date of the film, which corresponded with a political election. Another important cut among the same lines was the removal of political references, such as MP (Member of Parliament) and “election.” This shows another example of the desire to not allow the film to have any impact on the election (Express Web Desk). These cuts aid in preserving the perception of Punjab ahead of the election. In fact, the word “Punjab” was actually planned to be removed from the title (it was not). This showed political drive on the part of the censors. Essentially, the board is trying to maintain a level of exceptionalism, trying to ensure positive portrayals of Punjab and India.
While the intent of the removal of political and geographical references detached the movie from political events, it also could have the effect of altering the election by means of hiding a truth. In a personal interview, Journalist Chhaya Nene, she argued that this also puts a damper on creativity. She contends that “Censorship of Punjab’s drug problem put a weak Band-Aid on the larger issue that needs to be fixed which is addiction” (Nene).
An important distinction is the contrast between protection and censorship. Most films have some degree of protection, as it is necessary to a point. Chhaya Nene argues that some of the cuts are “protection and not censorship, two terms often confused for one another” (Nene). The urination scene and some of the foul language are examples of protection from bad morals. However, when geographic references are removed and the close-ups of drug ingestion are removed, it becomes more than simply protecting an audience from immoral things and borders on limiting freedom of expression.
The film industry’s attitude toward censorship is negative. The producer of Udta Punjab, Anurag Kashyap, expresses his sentiments in an interview with Times Now journalist Arnab Goswami, stating (referring to Pahalaj Nihalani, the leader of the CBFC): “How is it that he can function the way he is functioning and nobody gives a damn?” (Kashyap). By means of tweeting: “It’s my fight Vs a dictatorial man sitting there operating like an oligarch in his constituency of censor board, that’s like North Korea,” Anurag Kashyap makes a clear statement about what he believes is totalitarian control of films by the CBFC (Kashyap).
Nene also iterated concerns with Indian censorship, contending that: “India is a beautiful country with a massive film industry. They have a responsibility as a nation to allow positive change and growth as well as healthy discussions whether that’s through scaling back on censorships or allowing people to have public forum discussions” showing a view in favor of much freer expression. A survey shown in Pitbas Pradhan’s article, “Moral Basis of Censorship,” demonstrates that only 37.5% of the sample supported the current system of censorship, while 40% support public censorship and 16% support self-censorship (169). Pradhan contends that “Our censorship policies, therefore, need to be given a clear sense of direction so that both filmmakers and censors know where they stand” (172). He asserts a desire for a changed system, not a complete abolishment of censorship.
Udta Punjab’s controversy is part of a trend of film censorship in India. While the CBFC wants to protection audiences, politics, and morality, etc., Udta Punjab’s storyline delivers a relevant representation about contemporary concerns in Punjab and India at large. The cuts made by the CBFC sparked a battle between artists and censor, and between expression and protection.
Keywords: Udta Punjab, Censorship,Anurag Kashyap, Pahlaj Nihalani, Drugs, CBFC, India, Bollywood, Politics, Chhaya Nene, Protection, Cuts, Rating
“Censor Board Clears Udta Punjab Under ‘A’ Category With 13 Cuts: Pahlaj Nihalani”. The Indian Express. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
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Express Web Desk.” Udta Punjab Ban: Here Is What CBFC Does Not Want To Show The World”. The Indian Express. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
Green, Jonathan. Encyclopedia of Censorship. New Edition ed. New York: Facts on File, 2005. 274-76. Print.
“How Does India’s Censor Board Work?”. http://www.livemint.com/. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Kashyap, Anurag. Interview by Arnab Goswami. The Newshour. Times Now. 7 June 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
Nene, Chhaya. An Interview With Chhaya Nene. October 2nd 2016. Web.
“No More ‘Censorship’ Powers To Censor Board, Only ‘Certification’”. The Indian Express. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Petley, Julian. Censorship. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009. Print.
Pradhan, Pitabas. “The Moral Basis of Censorship in Cinema in an Age of Digital Communication: A Study among Select University Communities of India.”Media Asia, vol. 39, no. 3, 2012., pp. 164-172
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