Exit, Anupam Kher

Print edition : November 19, 2004

Anupam Kher. - N. SRIDHARAN

Anupam Kher has been removed as Chairman of the CBFC as part of the UPA's `detoxification' campaign. But the Board is still in the grip of outmoded principles and practices.

THE dismissal of Anupam Kher as the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) continues to generate controversy. Asked to step down by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, he refused. He was then sacked. Kher, who took over from Arvind Trivedi Lankesh in October 2003, was replaced by veteran actor and member of the board Sharmila Tagore. His exit, however, raises questions on the present functions of the CBFC and the manner in which it is constituted.

His removal came after the Communist Party India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, in an article in the party organ People's Democracy, named him as one of those appointed by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government who needed to be removed.

The Left parties' have been demanding the `detoxification' of educational and cultural institutions after the United Progressive Allaince government came to power. Surjeet, in his article, named what he called "RSS men still in key positions" - a list that includes L.M. Singhvi, a BJP Member of Parliament who heads the governing body of the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts; Tarun Vijay, the Editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh's (RSS) Hindi mouthpiece, Panchjanya, who is a member of the review and executive committees of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication; M.V. Kamat, a columnist for the RSS' English organ Organiser who is on the Prasar Bharati Board; and Sonal Mansingh who heads the Sangeet Natak Academy.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat said: "The purpose of the article is to make the point that the previous BJP regime facilitated the appointment of a large number of RSS members. It does not make sense for the new government to continue with the same appointees."

Anupam Kher filed a defamation case in the metropolitan magistrate court in Mumbai against Surjeet. In his petition Kher argued that being an artist he has never been associated with any political group or party, and that Surjeet has accused him of links with the RSS without providing any proof.

Kher's dismissal, however, does not come as a surprise. According to sources in the CBFC, changes within the Board were expected after the change of government at the Centre. The CBFC's delay in clearing films that dealt with the Gujarat riots, the most glaring example of which was Rakesh Sharma's documentary, Final Solution, only hastened the process.

According to a media reports, 49 of the 159 members on the CBFC's regional advisory panels in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai were functionaries of the BJP or people associated with it. Saba Diwan, an independent filmmaker, said:"Given the character of the Board that he headed, Kher was doing the bidding of a certain way of political censorship."

Although Final Solution ultimately was cleared by the CBFC, Rakesh Sharma faced a lot of problems before that. The CBFC did not even constitute a preview panel to see the film, though Sharma had been trying to obtain a censor certificate since mid-February, and had submitted all the material necessary. When the film was screened at film festivals and for the media, the Board sent Rakesh Sharma a showcause notice asking him to explain how the film had been shown (Frontline, February 27).

Rakesh Sharma said: "When Final Solution was supposed to be screened as part of a festival organised by Films for Freedom in Bangalore in July, the Police Commissioner, who initially allowed the screening, said that Anupam Kher called him up and asked him to prevent the screening of the film." He added: "The film was finally seen and rejected by a preview panel. They saw it and dictated the orders in three hours' time when the length of the film is three and a half hours. It was only a few days before his resignation that he [Kher] constituted a Revising Committee that cleared the film. Notwithstanding the treatment of my film, I think Anupam Kher's tenure in the Censor Board was one of the most repressive regimes" (Frontline, August 27). Final Solution is not the only film that has got into trouble with the CBFC under Kher. Bishaka Dutta's In The Flesh, which deals with sex workers, and Shyam Rajnakar's Chords on a Richter Scale, which deals with the communalisation of the relief work after the Gujarat earthquake, too were not cleared.

IN July 2003, Vijay Anand resigned as CBFC Chairman after he drew the ire of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for initiating a comprehensive review of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The most controversial proposal made in this process was that films having sexually explicit visuals be rated XA and allowed to be exhibited at designated cinema halls. Even before the suggestions were considered by a core committee of the CBFC, the government expressly forbade Vijay Anand and the CBFC to discuss the proposal internally.

Significantly, he also proposed that fiscal autonomy be granted to the CBFC, and that appointments to the Advisory Panels and the CBFC Board be made on professional considerations and not political ones. The National Democratic Alliance government replaced him with former BJP MP Arvind Trivedi Lankesh, best known for his role as Ravana in Ramanand Sagar's television serial Ramayana. On becoming chairperson, Lankesh immediately expressed his opposition to the proposed review of the Cinematograph Act, and the censorship guidelines of the CBFC.

Most of Anand's proposals were based on the system that exists in most countries where there is no pre-censorship and films are rated according to the audiences that they are appropriate for. The only films banned are those that depict sexual violence or violent pornography. Rahul Roy, an independent filmmaker, said: "The CBFC should not have the power to order cuts or reject a movie, and should refer films to a panel consisting of people who have an understanding of films."

Lawrence Liang, a lawyer from the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, said: "The system of pre-censorship should be done away with and the only function of the CBFC should be to certify films. The nomenclature of the Censor Board itself was changed through an amendment of the Cinematograph Act in 1982 from the Central Board of Film Censorship to the Central Board of Film Certification - exactly what the function of this body should be."

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