Shyam Benegal: ‘The government of the day cannot assume that it has created the CBFC’

The filmmaker spoke about the status of his committee’s report, which has not yet been implemented by the Information and Broadcasting ministry.

The replacement of Pahlaj Nihalani with Prasoon Joshi as the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification has been widely welcomed. But is that reason enough to rejoice? And what of the fate of the committee set up to reform the certification process and revamp the board’s functioning?

The committee was appointed by the central government in 2016. It was headed by Shyam Benegal, and its members included Kamal Haasan, Rakeysh Mehra and Piyush Pandey. Among the recommendations were the introduction of categories such UA12+, UA15+, A and AC (Adult with Caution) to ensure that films do not get unduly cut and instead reach the intended audience of their makers. The report clearly defined the role of the CBFC chairperson as the board’s “guiding mechanism”, who would not be involved with the day-to-day job of certifying films. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has not yet acted on the recommendations. In an interview, Shyam Benegal said he would be speaking to Information and Broadcasting Minster Smriti Irani to get an update on the committee’s report.

Pahlaj Nihalani is out. Any thoughts?

I have no comments to make on Pahlaj Nihalani or about the government’s decision to retire him. That said, Prasoon Joshi is a good choice as the CBFC chairman. He is a very fine poet in Hindi, he is a well-known lyricist, he has been heading one of the finest advertising agencies in the country. He has great knowledge of media, cinema, and the arts. He is also a literary figure.

Many, many filmmakers had complained about the workings of the CBFC, and as you well know, the media itself carried reports too. The latest was this gentleman, [Kushan] Nandy, who was asked to make 40 cuts or something in his film. I have read reports about several filmmakers being unhappy with the CBFC’s decisions, but I cannot comment on that because it did not happen to me.

Have you heard back from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry after your committee submitted its report?

Our report was given in 2016 in two parts, April and October. We haven’t heard from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry officially in any manner. I have asked them a couple of times and they said that things are happening. I have decided that I will speak to the correct people at the ministry on Wednesday and if I don’t get a satisfactory answer, I will seek an appointment with Mrs. Irani and find out.

Nihalani had said that he would take the “strictest action” against filmmakers screening their films uncensored at film festivals in “exotic locations”. Film festivals do not come under the censor board’s jurisdiction. Will this change?

I don’t believe so. What happens is that international film festivals recognised by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations do not recognise or accept films that are censored. The International Film Festival of India or the Mumbai Film Festival is FIAPF-recognised. Here, they want films the way they were originally designed.
Since FIAPF itself does not want to encourage the idea that someone else can interfere with the content and the creative intent of a film, films cannot be censored before they are taken to international festivals.

If censor board members are selected by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, do you think that they can act independently, at all, ever?

It’s a constitutional requirement for the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to choose the CBFC members. The CBFC is a State institution. It has nothing to do with the government in power. A state is forever, like the nation. Governments come and go.

Who represents the people? The legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The government is the executive and it cannot take over the powers of the legislature or the judiciary. These distinctions need to be made. The government of the day cannot automatically assume that it has created the CBFC.

Your report says that films will continue to be refused a certificate if they fail to comply with Section 5B(1) of the Cinematograph Act. This section deals with films threatening the sovereignty of the Indian nation, its national interest, decency and morality. Don’t you think that this section can be interpreted in several ways?

We created the several sub-categories to cover the whole gamut between the Universal (U) and the Adult (A) certificate. The Cinematograph Act was passed in 1952, and things have changed since that and it requires amendments. The problem with amending an act is that it needs to be tabled in the Parliament and debated and so on. That is the law.

It is not so difficult to interpret that section. If somebody is against the constitution of India or if somebody is threatening the country through a film, it cannot be allowed. No country will allow such a film. You cannot challenge the sovereignty of a country, no?

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.