New Indian censor board censured for Modi tilt

Newcomers on the panel include politicians, actors and a writer who wrote a script for a film about Modi

News Desk January 20, 2015
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI: Indian politicians, writers and Bollywood filmmakers linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been appointed to the censorship panel, battling allegations they were handpicked by a pro-Hindu government with a partisan agenda, reported Reuters.

Pahlaj Nihalani, a movie producer, was chosen as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) on Monday along with nine new members to replace incumbents, who quit last week citing government interference.

Nihalani, the producer of Bollywood hits such as Aankhen in the 1990s, created a BJP campaign video titled Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi for the May 2014 election that saw the Prime Minister Narendra Modi come to power, reported In a post-appointment interview, Nihalani said he considers Modi as his ‘action hero’. Although insistent that the decisions he will take as chairman will not be politically motivated, he stated, “I’m proud to say I am a BJP person. I believe in BJP. Narendra Modi is the voice of the nation. He is my action hero. He is a visionary person.”

The appointments invited ridicule on social media, with Twitter users questioning the merits of picking well-known sympathisers of Modi and his party. Newcomers on the panel include politicians, actors and a writer, who wrote a script for a film about Modi. The board includes Telegu actor Jeevitha Rajashekar, who is BJP’s spokesperson in Telangana, and released a song for Modi during last year’s general elections.

Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit, one of the new members, said individual political leanings would not affect their work. “I’m a big fan of Mr Modi and his vision but, when it comes to passing films, there is a constitution and you have to follow that,” Pandit said. He added that last week’s mass resignations were a political move to discredit the ruling government. Nihalani was not available for comment.

Last week’s censor panel resignations were prompted by the impending release of the controversial film MSG: The Messenger of God. The panel had kept the film out of cinemas on the grounds that it was a promotional film about the leader of a religious sect and would encourage superstition.

The decision was overturned by an appellate tribunal, which gave the go-ahead to the film, starring Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a spiritual leader with several million followers. Singh’s sect had supported BJP candidates in provincial elections last year.

On Tuesday, the opposition Congress accused the government of keeping the ministries for human resources and information and broadcasting under the sway of Modi’s pro-Hindu platform. India’s 1.2 billion people are predominantly Hindus, but there are also about 160 million Muslims and a small proportion of Christians.

“Good luck, Bollywood! Rest assured, there will be no sequel to PK,” Congress party spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter. PK has grossed over INR3 billion since December to become Indian cinema’s biggest hit, but the film nettled several Hindu groups over its depiction of religious rituals and a corrupt spiritual guru.  “When PK released, we faced so much criticism, but we stood our ground,” Leela Samson stated last week after quitting as censor board chief. “It’s ridiculous that, as a country, we cannot even laugh at ourselves anymore.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2015.

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