We’re more transparent than Americans-Sharmila Tagore
Sharmila Tagore is only the second person to chair the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for two full terms. A three-month extension enabled the I&B ministry to find a successor, giving Tagore the distinction of the longest tenure in that office. The legendary actress, who debuted 52 years ago in Satyajit Ray’s “Apur Sansar”, continues her film career with the just released “Life Goes On”. She spoke to Ratnottama Sengupta on her last day in office at the CBFC. Excerpts:
Ratnottama Sengupta (THE TIMES OF INDIA; April 3, 2011)
What do you think you achieved as CBFC chief and what have you learnt?
• I realized that we’re far more transparent than the Americans. We speak to the press whenever they want to discuss a decision; we’re not “all white”’ nor all of “a certain age”. Their debate is about “why X, not A”; ours is about “why UA, not U”. Except for “Ghajini” which fell through the net, we give ‘UA’ if there’s violence, item songs, expletives… Tell me honestly, is “Kaminey” watchable by a 12-year-old?
Sometimes a single dialogue tarnishes the dignity of women. One character in “Raajneeti” gave the impression that every woman sleeps around to get a ticket (in elections). Sometimes friendly relations with a country can’t be jeopardized. As an insider, I understand the compulsions of both the industry and the audience. I also know that some people take advantage of our openness and go to the press for publicity. Still, and against advice, I opened up to the press. That helped build bridges.
•A long article in a film journal had detailed the director’s tension while “Love Sex aur Dhoka” was being censored. Describing the (CBFC) members, he wrote dismissively of “a burqa-clad woman”. I called up the editor and asked him, “Can’t a burqa-clad lady judge a film?” He had no answer, he kept repeating, “I’m listening madam, I’m listening.”
In “No One Killed Jessica”, Tehelka pointed out that, in reality, they had held the candlelight vigils and sting operations. But the sponsors, NDTV, appeared to get the credit. So I spoke to producer Ronnie Screwvala, and he took measures to correct the impression. Such interventions have helped avert conflicts.
Why have you recommended a ‘15+’ certification category?
• In a country where the drinking age is 21 though the voting age is 18, why have a blanket ‘U’? I recommended a ‘15+’ category because their awareness level is different from that of 10+. But I don’t think we should have school or college kids as panel members. They can’t give the time; besides, they don’t have an all-India perspective.
Little things go unnoticed. In the credits for “Life Goes On”, Rabindranath Tagore and Javed Akhtar have got equal weightage. This was questioned by someone in the audience. Had Javed seen the film, he himself might have insisted, “Bring down my name a few notches, I must write some more to equal his weight in paper!”
“Inshallah Football” faced problems because of dialogues that said, ‘Hole mein daalo’ etc. Though “Omkara” was certified ‘A’, everyone thought it had too much foul language. Forget Saif’s lines, which were talked about, when Konkona uses the same language, there was an audible gasp in the theatre. Questions were raised in Parliament and CBFC had to answer them.
If you notice, in recent years, CBFC has been in the news not so much for deleting but for permitting scenes or dialogues. This was so in “Aaja Nachle”, “Challenge” (Bengali), “Billu”, “Dhobi Ghat”. Sometimes, as in “Udaan”, smoking is shown to give the message that it is wrong. We know university kids do wrong things, and films show what’s bad to say, “Don’t do this.” So, CBFC is responsive. See how rape, once in every film, is now gone! So are clothes clinging in the rain, because body-hugging clothes are now the norm.
But documentaries have to show life in the raw.
• Documentary makers face a dilemma since the Cinematograph Act doesn’t have a separate section for them. The amendment, now in Parliament, should lay down rules for documentaries.
What are your other suggestions?
• I’ve suggested that the Film Certification Apellate Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that can overrule CBFC certification, should be brought into play. Frivolous appeals burden the courts -—why not explore existing avenues? Besides, if a judge passes an injunction, it would kill a producer. The FCAT will help, particularly since the producer will have to go only to Delhi, instead of zigzagging through the country.
Another suggestion is that the Animal Board, which now has a single office in Chennai, should be more accessible. Filmmakers, especially from the northeast, Kashmir or Punjab face a huge problem. One other suggestion concerns the rule that a peon too can become regional officer through promotions. We feel there should be some qualifying exam. How else can an unequipped person watch an English or foreign film?
Any suggestions regarding the chair?
•As the number of films coming for certification has gone up drastically, a chairperson should get an honorarium for giving time to the office. This could be in the form of telephone bills, car allowance…Since this office is equated with the joint secretary’s, the compensations should match. Or else, don’t equate!
Why should the chairperson be from cinema?
•Not only in numbers, the character of our films too has changed dramatically. With the growth of digital films, CBFC certifies films even in languages like Santhali, Rajbonshi, Tulu, Khorta. Then there are documentaries, music videos, foreign films shown on channels or released for home viewing… In any kind of conflict, the buck stops with the chairperson. So you have to be aware of trends in cinema and society. You must be open, even to a youth’s way of looking at life. At the same time, you must empathize with the filmmakers since the industry today involves crores.
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