Three cheers for the censor board

The best fallout of the Udta Punjab imbroglio is that the usually silent film fraternity has suddenly started speaking upand in unison

“A woman’s bra is not a danger to society." That actress Kangana Ranaut said this on a stage she was sharing with Information & Broadcasting Minister, Arun Jaitley is impressive for many reasons.

First, she, unlike almost every other actress from the film fraternity has taken a firm and vociferous stand against the indiscriminate and illogical censoring of Udta Punjab by the Central Board of Film Certification. (Just to give you some perspective, the CBFC has asked that the dog’s name in the film be changed from Jackie “Chain". Why? Because I’m assuming they don’t want to hurt Jackie Chan’s feelings.) Second, Ranaut did so in the presence of a Cabinet minister, Arun Jaitley. And third, she made the statement at the very public and publicised forum of the CNN IBN Indian Of The Year awards, where she was being given a Special Achievement award by Jaitley. Not really the occasion where you would think any actor or awardee would want to ruffle feathers.

But there you had it.

And I think this is the best fallout of the Udta Punjab imbroglio. That the usually silent film fraternity, which keeps mum whenever controversy knocks at its door, has suddenly started speaking up -- and in unison. Ranaut should be given a standing ovation for making the most of the opportunity given to her and telling a full audience about how the CBFC blurred out a 2-second shot of a bra lying on her bed in a scene in Queen, because they felt that it was inappropriate. While she did so, Jaitley looked on with a fixed smile. She also wondered why anyone would think breasts were evil, explaining how the film’s production unit had sourced the bra from Lajpat Nagar to stay true to Ranaut’s character’s roots in the film. Ranaut explained how props are chosen and are integral to building the ambience of a film, and how the smallest cut by the CBFC hurts. She told the audience how the film fraternity felt pushed to the wall, and then looked at Jaitley and said she hoped that he would understand their concerns and correct this situation. (That Ranaut’s impromptu speech was followed up by Union Minister and singer, Babul Supriyo being asked to sing a song for Ranaut and, ironically choosing to sing Kaho Na Pyar Hai from the Hrithik Roshan-starrer of the same name, is worth mentioning. As he gamely said, that was a political gaffe on his part and proves why he’s in politics.)

Before this, on Wednesday, an unlikely and unprecedented gathering of actors, producers, directors, celebrity agents held a press conference and spoke eloquently and in one voice against censorship. Mahesh Bhatt explained how this absurdness is not unique to this government and the members it has assigned to the CBFC. He said he’s faced similar problems since 1973. But it’s time to stem the rot. The press conference was chaired by Imtiaz Ali, Satish Kaushik, Hansal Mehta, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Ekta Kapur, Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Mukesh and Mahesh Bhatt and many others. All spoke up against the CBFC acting not as a film certification board, but as Edward Scissorhands and moral guardian for the adult citizens of India.

Even Amitabh Bachchan who never says a word out of line against the powers that be, was moved enough to say that censorship of creative people should be stopped. Of course, he did place the rider that he had not even heard of the Udta Punjab controversy – which worries me greatly since he’s on social media round-the-clock and I’m certain has access to newspapers. Really Mr Bachchan, it’s fine to err on the side of caution, but let’s try to make a plausible statement. Aamir Khan weighed in on the issue, as did Karan Johar, Richa Chadha, Kalki Koechlin and Javed Akhtar.

And this is what I think we should all thank the CBFC for. It has finally managed to create a situation where our celebrities and film folk who usually seem to believe that silence is golden, have finally spoken up. And how. Yes, of course there are the strangely silent lot – from Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan to Akshay Kumar to Ajay Devgn. Or even Deepika Padukone who said in an interview that she cannot take a stand one way or the other. But the majority have rallied together and taken a stand against the censorship of cinema.

We all know that none of the CBFC members — including the renegade Ashoke Pandit who is on the side of the film-makers — have any film-making or acting accomplishments to their credit. But if their one accomplishment has been to give us a Bollywood which speaks up for freedom of expression, and celebrities who use their position and influence to bring awareness against the stemming of free speech, then long may CBFC prosper.

The courts will eventually rule on Udta Punjab (the Bombay High Court was hearing the case on Friday) and it is likely that the movie will be released on 17 June. And thanks to all the publicity the CBFC has given , it will now run to full houses. All I can hope is that now that this brouhaha is quietening down, the same won’t happen to our suddenly vocal Bollywood frat boys and girls.