Shailesh Kapoor: 3 Ps of the Week: Pahlaj, Prasoon & Pehredaar Piya Ki

18 Aug,2017


By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s been a week the film industry was craving for. Last Friday’s film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a massive hit, ending a drought that started since Bahubali 2 in April this year. On the same day as the release of this film, ie, August 11, came another news that sent the industry into instant celebration mode. CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) chief Pahlaj Nihalani was sacked, and replaced by Prasoon Joshi.


The I&B Ministry notification was a surprise for many. The Ministry has backed Nihalani for more than two years by simply turning a blind eye to his ways. The media has been gunning for Nihalani’s head for a while now, but has never been a clear response from the Government. Till last Friday.


It’s difficult to say the exact trigger for this notification. But it seems connected to Smriti Irani taking over as the I&B Minister in July this year. Since then, there have been two incidents the CBFC has been involved in, which are not exactly ‘women-friendly’.


Lipstick Under My Burkha was already at the receiving end of the Board’s ire, for being ‘too lady-oriented’. Then, on August 3, the team of the film Babumoshai Bandookbaaz held a press conference to talk about how the CBFC treated them and their film. While asking for cuts on abuses and political references is nothing new for the Board under Nihalani, the details of how the proceeding went shocked many in the media and the trade. Kiran Shroff, one of the producers of the film, was asked by an Examining Committee member on how she could produce such a film “being a woman”. Before she could reply, another member of the Committee commented that “she was not a woman, as she was wearing shirt and pants.”


Smriti Irani is not one to take this nonsense. There’s a high chance that the prevailing misogyny in the Board could have promoted her to advance her decision.


Prasoon Joshi is known to have a liberal mindset. There’s the Shyam Benegal Committee report that’s been gathering dust for a while, and if Joshi takes that forward, we may see a structural change in the CBFC very soon. In the short run, we definitely hope to see less films going to the Revising Committee (which lost its relevance under Nihalani) and FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal).


In sharp contrast to these progressive developments, the television industry saw the other side of ‘censorship’ this week. Sony’s new show Pehredaar Piya Ki (PPK) has been the topic of discussion since its promos went on air, with the marriage of a nine-year-old to a grown-up girl creating a stir. About two weeks ago, an online petition was floated, calling for a ban on the show. This petition got 136,000 supporters.


Based on the petition, Smriti Irani asked BCCC (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council) to take ‘immediate action’. It seems that BCCC has directed the channel to run scrolls that the show does not support child marriage, and shift the show to post 10pm, instead of its current 8.30pm slot.


Now, much is wrong with all this. 136,000 may seem like a high number, but it is miniscule in context of the category, i.e., Indian television. About 30 times this number watch an episode of PPK on an average. And more than 80% of these are grown-up adults, who should decide for themselves.


Imagine if a film would have been made on this exact subject, and Nihalani would have blocked it for the exact same reasons that this online petition lists, there’s high chance the exact same section of the society that have floated and supported the ‘Ban PPK’ petition would have floated and supported one to let the film release because it’s freedom of speech, and the audiences must decide what they want. If that isn’t hypocrisy, what is?


And how exactly does shifting a show to 10pm ‘solve’ anything anyway? If one begins to use such highly-subjective lenses to evaluate television content, almost 50% of Indian fiction shows could come under the scanner for some reason or the other. Hope we are not in for a ‘petition culture’. If the audiences can decide in the case of films, they can decide in the case of TV as well, which includes parents deciding on behalf of their (minor) children.


Whether it’s films or TV, when will we learn to let the audiences be?


Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO, Ormax World. The views expressed here are his own


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