New Delhi, Nov 18: Looking at the short tenure of lyricist-adman Prasoon Joshi as the chief of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) since he was appointed for the coveted post in August this year, it has been a quiet journey so far, unlike the tumultuous stint of his predecessor, Pahlaj Nihalani.
The news of Joshi being appointed as the chief of Censor Board (as the CBFC is popularly known as) was welcomed by many as the lyricist-adman is considered to be a "liberal" person, a total contrast to sanskari Nihalani, who had opposed many movies for allegedly hurting Indian culture during his term as the chief of the statutory body under the ministry of information and broadcasting.
Till date, Joshi has not courted any controversy, although immediately after his appointment as the chief of Censor Board, a Punjabi movie, Toofan Singh, was denied certification on grounds of "excessive violence".
The development did not catch the attention of the media much as it was a small Punjabi film, unlike a big Bollywood project.
Thus, Joshi did not face the ire of liberals and champions of freedom of speech. Now, months after Toofan Singh was denied approval by the CBFC, the board on Friday returned filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's application for his upcoming controversial film, Padmavati, citing "technical deficiencies".
Once the deficiency in the application is removed, it would be scrutinised again, said a Censor Board member, according to the news agency, Press Trust of India. Thus, the makers of the period drama--that is facing protests across the nation for allegedly distorting history by showcasing queen Padmini of Chittor, Rajasthan in a bad light--had to once again submit Padmavati before the board.
The whole process is likely to delay the release of the film. The film is scheduled to hit theatres on December 1.
The reason for not watching the film on technical grounds might be a genuine one, however, looking at the whole controversy over the film that has got a strong political tone to it makes one wonder if Joshi, like his predecessor, toed the government line.
After gauging public sentiment against the Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film, political parties, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, supported those who want a ban on the period drama for allegedly distorting history.
The political parties thought that if they don't support the ban brigade it might hurt their vote share in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, scheduled on December 9 and 14, as a lot of voters belong to both the Rajput and Kshatriya communities--the two main groups which are opposing Padmavati tooth and nail.
In fact, the Kshatriya community leaders from the BJP wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) demanding the stalling of Padmavati's release ahead of the Gujarat elections.
So, the film's political connection can't be denied as every Tom, Dick, and Harry from the BJP and the Congress are busy slamming the film's director and its lead actress Deepika Padukone.
In spite of the whole protest against the film turning nasty, as both Deepika and Bhansali received multiple death threats, all these days, the information and broadcasting ministry remained silent.
However, when the Censor Board-- a prominent body under the ministry--was supposed to take a stand on the film, it acted like a spineless institution by citing "deficiency in the application"--a pretty lame excuse.
Well-known actress Shabana Azmi raised questions over the CBFC's decision to send back the application for the certification of Padmavati. In fact, the actress-activist alleged that the Censor Board was indulging in politics.
"#Padmavatis application to CBFC has been sent back bcoz of incomplete formalities! Really? Or to keep fires stoked for electoral gains?" the veteran actress tweeted.
While the CBFC refused to watch the movie and delay its release, popular news anchor Arnab Goswami watched the film on Friday during a private screening. Unlike, his usual pro-government stand, Goswami profusely praised the film and as usual as an activist, he demanded the release of the film.
Trying to dispel rumours about vilifying Rajput women in the film by Bhansali, Goswami during his night show at Republic TV called Padmavati the "greatest tribute to Rajputs".
"I watched the movie Padmavati. It's the greatest ever tribute to Rajput pride. Karni Sena will be laughed at and they'll look like clowns when people will watch the movie," Goswami said.
The controversial news anchor also slammed the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the fringe group at the forefront opposing Padmavati, for spreading rumours about the film.
"I Watched The Movie #Padmavati . It's Greatest Ever Tribute To Rajput Pride. Karni Sena Will Be Laughed At & They'll Look Like Clowns When People Will Watch The Movie. " - Arnab Goswami#RepublicWatchesPadmavatipic.twitter.com/VXGmV8JdMd— Sir Ravindra Jadeja (@SirJadeja) November 17, 2017
The makers of the film have rued how the CBFC is "looking the other way" due to which they are compelled to show the movie on other platforms.
"What an irony, those who are supposed to watch are looking the other way and we have to run around and show it at other forums to clear it," tweeted Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer of Viacom18.com, the production house behind the film.
The banner has produced Padmavati with Bhansali Productions and it will distribute the film in India.
As the ruling dispensation at the Centre has developed a liking for playing politics over films--we saw similar chaos and confrontation between filmmakers and the Censor Board before the release of Udta Punjab, a film on drug menace in Punjab ahead of the Assembly elections in the state last year--it has badly hurt the Indian cinema by repeatedly trampling artistic creativity and restricting freedom of expression of filmmakers.