Bollywood reacts to Pahlaj Nihalani’s latest proposed ban on alcohol consumption and smoking on the screen.
It would seem that Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahlaj Nihlani has now started a crusade against alcohol and tobacco. According to CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani, “Merely putting a ticker warning at some remote corner of the screen whenever there is smoking or drinking shown, is not enough any more. We feel that the superstars who are followed by millions and who set an example in societal behaviour must not be shown drinking or smoking on screen unless the provocation for doing so is really strong.”
Needless to say, the statement hasn’t really gone down well with the film fraternity who have already been feeling the pinch of harsh censorship. Indeed, even CBFC member Ashok Pandit seems a bit flummoxed with the ban. “As a board member I’m unaware of this directive, as nothing has been communicated with us. We are going back to the ’40s with such a decision; we will only be showing mythological history and shows with such a step. Smoking is not banned in India, cigarettes are sold and people smoke, if the script demands that the character should smoke on screen then it will be shown. Indians smoke, then why is he not allowing people to show reality on screen,” he asks indignantly.
If one looks at plots where smoking and drinking have been integral to the plot one only has to look at movies like Devdas (which has numerous adaptations from different filmmakers, each film showing its drunk protagonist in a different way); Cocktail, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, the Tanu Weds Manu series — the list is endless. So, how does one decide if a character needs to or need not to be shown drinking and smoking?
Karan Anshuman, director of the recently released web series Inside Edge, showed Vivek Oberoi’s character sipping from a glass of scotch and smoking a cigarette. He said, it was not because of a strong provocation, but because of relevance to the plot. “These instances are used for the reflection of characters. There is a character in the film who has given up smoking, he is chewing a gum and he is talking about getting rid of it. He even feels at ease at a certain point of time, but there are also times where his morals are getting affected and he can’t help but light up a cigarette. It’s like representing a weak moment where one is struggling with an addiction. So it is absolutely integral to the character and his part in the film,” says Karan.
Addressing CBFC’s latest ban, he adds, “You cannot impose your subjectivity of films on other people. You only have to certify the film according to the age group it is appropriate for. You cannot have such double standards in a country that has access to the Internet.”
Bejoy Nambiar, who made the crime thriller Shaitan, which portrayed several characters getting involved in taking drugs and alcohol, says that it should be the filmmaker’s discretion what to show and what not to show. “An outsider to a film cannot make judgements as to what can and cannot go in the film. We need our films to be at par with the international movies, and that will never happen with constraints like this. It’s high time that the CBFC stopped moral policing films and stuck to its job of certifying,” he says firmly.
Bejoy goes further to say that one also needs to take a good look at the CBFC guidelines themselves. “I think the industry has agitated enough number of times for something to be done. Regressive rules that restrict creative freedom definitely need to be revised now,” he says.
Hansal Mehta, director of films like Shahid and Aligarh, points out how films cannot be blamed for every vice in the society. “Any sort of drinking and smoking scene that are shown in films are totally character-driven. No filmmaker does it to encourage people to drink and smoke. Such random guidelines should totally be stopped. To think that banning drinking and smoking scenes in films would discourage people to drink and smoke, is silly,” says Hansal.
A highly disappointed Askok adds that all the moral policing seems a bit rich coming from a man like Pahlaj. “All this is coming from a man who in his career made the most vulgar films. He is making a fool of himself and the government. It is high time that he resigns and steps down. We were all very happy when a film producer was made the chairman and welcomed him but he has let everyone down,” he shakes his head.