Pahlaj Nihalani, whose decisions as the censor board chief repeatedly angered the film fraternity, was on Friday replaced by noted lyricist and ad guru Prasoon Joshi.
One of the most controversial censor board chairpersons, who had skirmishes with film producers over cuts, beeps and disclaimers he insisted on, Nihalani said: “I had been preparing myself for my exit for months now.”
He alleged that since the time he became Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief in 2015 “there have been elements working against me, some of them from within the CBFC. These elements — I’m not going to name them on-record — are currently celebrating premature Diwali.”
He also said he has no regrets. “None at all. Believe me, I was brought in as the CBFC chairperson all a sudden. I happily took up the job that the government thought me fit for. Now when the government has asked me to step down, I do so without any regret.”
“It was a big challenge while it lasted. When I came in, there was rampant corruption in the CBFC. I got rid of all the middlemen and touts who made money in the censor certification process. They too must be celebrating Diwali in advance this year,” he said.
He did not comment on Joshi being his successor.
A government statement posted late on Friday said Joshi has been appointed CBFC “in an honorary capacity from August 11, 2017, for a period of three years or until further orders, whichever is earlier”.
Indian National Award-winning actress Vidya Balan has been appointed as part of the reconstituted CBFC.
Balan said she is very happy to join the CBFC. “I hope to fulfil my responsibilities as a member to the best of my abilities. I look forward to this new and exciting phase where our cinema will be allowed to reflect the sensibilities, realities and complexities of the society we are living in today.”
A Press Information Bureau (PIB) statement announced the reconstitution of the CBFC board with “immediate effect for a period of three years or until further orders, whichever is earlier.”
Balan is joined by Gautami Tadimalla, Narendra Kohli, Naresh Chandra Lal, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih, Vivek Agnihotri, Waman Kendre, TS Nagabharana, Ramesh Patange, Vani Tripati Tikoo, Jeevitha Rajasekhar and Mihir Bhuta.
Agnihotri said Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani was looking at the CBFC with a fresh perspective. “With Prasoon Joshi heading it, it was tempting for me to come on board.”
Joshi is known for his contribution to films such as Black, Taare Zameen Par, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Rang De Basanti, Delhi-6 and Neerja and for designing successful ad campaigns. Honoured with Padma Shri, the Indian National Award-winner penned the theme song for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan [Clean India Mission] and other campaigns.
Nihalani, who has been a film producer and describes himself on Twitter as a “true Indian”, took over as CBFC chairperson in 2015 from danseuse Leela Samson, a year after Modi became the Prime Minister.
Hollywood movie Fifty Shades Of Grey became the first victim to Nihalani’s ways of censorship. It was not allowed to release in India over its erotic content.
Nihalani soon turned his attention to the Indian industry with films such as NH10, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Aligarh, Udta Punjab, Haraamkhor, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Indu Sarkar and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz facing his wrath.
Even James Bond film Spectre couldn’t escape his scissors. It was released only after the kissing scenes were cut short.
In Udta Punjab, a movie about the drug problem in Punjab, Nihalani and his examining committee insisted on as many as 89 cuts, triggering widespread condemnation.
Nihalani said he hoped he is “remembered as the CBFC chairperson who took a firm stand against vulgarity and pseudo-liberalism, no matter how unpopular it made me.”
Without referring to Joshi, he also hoped that his successor “doesn’t reverse the work that I started at the CBFC. I feel we have achieved a lot in the past three years”.
“We’ve speedened up the certification process and made it entirely digital. I just hope my successor doesn’t succumb to false notions of liberalism propagated by the pseudo-progressive elements in our film industry and work in a direction opposed to mine.
“Do I have any regrets? None at all. I worked in all sincerity and with utmost honesty. In the process, I offended a A lot of the so-called progressive elements. I also got labelled a ‘Sanskari’ censor chief. I am proud of that label.
Joshi’s appointment as the new censor chief drew appreciation.
Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who led a panel that has made recommendations for a revamp of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, said: “Prasoon Joshi is an excellent choice. He is a very fine poet and also headed one of the best advertising agencies. So his understanding of the medium is very good.”
Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, who ran into trouble with Nihalani over his political drama Indu Sarkar, said: “Prasoon is a very evolved person. He comes from the advertising background and will have a modern point of view. Choosing Prasoon is a welcome decision by the government.
“I would like to thank Smriti Iraniji and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathoreji for their decision. I am sure Prasoon will have a different outlook. He understands today’s movies well.”
So what are Nihalani’s future plans?
“I am returning to my first love, film production, in a big way. I will soon be announcing a slew of films. It’s been a highly satisfying tenure at the CBFC for me. But it’s also been exhausting and time-consuming. I’m happy to make way for someone else,” he added.
Before cracking down on a variety of movies, Nihalani had produced a string of films including Paap ki Duniya, Aag ka Gola, Shola aur Shabnam, Aankhen and Talaash: The Hunt Begins.