Till the other day it was merely a question of few expletives. Now the cat is out of the bag. The real intent, malicious and misguided at that, behind holding up the certification of Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab is no longer mere insinuation. The CBFC committee's demand for unreasonable cuts, reportedly 89 in all, and removal of references to Punjab invites suspicion. With the Punjab Assembly elections due in 2017, many in the ruling dispensation feel the film that discusses rampant drug abuse in the state would hurt its electoral chances. Some are even suggesting that the film paints the state in a bad light.
Those raising “the Punjab-defamed bogey” fail to see that Hindi cinema has long moved away from the wishy-washy, all is well tenor that once defined its content. Since intolerance is on the rise and freedom regularly under attack it is no surprise that each time a film uncovers an inconvenient social or political truth, some groups and forces feel rattled. From fringe groups to those with vested political interests, many have stalled the release of films on frivolous grounds and the censor board has invariably played along. Rather, the censor’s scissors have been in a proactive snipping mode ever since Pahlaj Nihalani took over as the CBFC chief.
What began as the axing of harmless kissing scenes and beeping out a few swear words is now acquiring dangerously conformist overtones. With each step, the CBFC has moved backward. But with Udta Punjab it has plumbed the nadir. An angry Anurag Kashyap, one of the producers, said: “It’s like living in North Korea.” Viewed through the current political prism, creative liberty is undeniably under threat. Those who are entrusted with the responsibility of running institutions like the censor board have an obligation to the civil society and the creative community, not to petty politicians and their shabby calculations.
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