India Replaces Controversial Censor Board Chief

Pahlaj Nihalani - 2015 Aadesh Shrivastava Funeral Attendance - One Time Use Only - Getty - H 2017
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Pahlaj Nihalani had whipped up many controversies, which affected both Indian and Hollywood films such as ‘Spectre’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’

India’s controversial head of the Central Board of Film Certification, Pahlaj Nihalani, has been replaced, it was announced Friday. Since his appointment in 2015, Nihalani, a former Bollywood producer, had unleashed many a controversy over his demands for cuts in films.

According to an official notification by India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Nahalani has been replaced before the end of his three-year term by Prasoon Joshi, a well-known lyricist, screenwriter and veteran advertising executive who is currently chairman of McCann India. His film credits include hit Bollywood titles such as Disney-UTV’s Rang De Basanti and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which was distributed by Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

From James Bond to Bollywood to indie cinema, a growing number of films battled the censorship board during Nihalani’s tenure, sparking a series of social media frenzies. The imbroglios ranged from the shortening of Daniel Craig’s kissing scenes with Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux in 2015's Spectre to the unprecedented 89 cuts demanded for Abhishek Chaubey’s 2016 Bollywood drug drama Udta Punjab. And in several cases, the public backlash to the request for cuts ended in embarrassment for censors.

Even 2016's The Jungle Book was not spared, with the censors giving it a UA rating, equivalent to a PG. Justifying the decision, Nihalani told the newspaper DNA that “the 3D effects are so scary that the animals seem to jump right at the audience. ... It's up to parents to decide how much of these effects are suited for their children.”

Some films were outright banned, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and, initially, even the recent independent Indian feminist drama film Lipstick Under My Burkha, which the board alleged was “lady oriented” and contained “abusive words, audio pornography.” The filmmakers appealed to the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal, which overturned the board’s ruling, allowing for Lipstick to be released with some voluntary cuts by the filmmakers.

The industry had long been demanding that Nihalani be removed while urging the government that the CBFC, which is based on legislation from the 1950s, needed to change.

“The censor board shouldn’t be like a moral guardian saying, ‘You can’t watch this,’” Lipstick director Alankrita Shrivastava told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. “People can vote in India. If they have the power to choose their leader, why don’t they have the power to choose the type of films they want to watch?”