KOLKATA, India – The Indian government has appointed film producer Pahlaj Nihalani as chair of the institution the country’s controversial censorship body, the Central Board of Film Certification. It has also been given a new board that will heighten charges of political meddling.
Last week Leela Samson resigned as chair of the institution, alleging government interference. The board followed suit and also resigned.
Nihalani, whose new role was announced in Monday, produced several hits in the 1980s and 1990s including “Ilzaam,” “Aankhen” and “Shola Aur Shabnam.”
A freshly appointed nine-member board will serve for three years unless the government decides otherwise.
Samson resigned citing political interference from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in their functioning, as well as corruption within the CBFC. The flashpoint was the film “MSG: Messenger of God,” which Samson and her board rejected on the grounds that it promoted superstition, but the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal overruled the CBFC decision and cleared it for release.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), issued a strongly worded riposte to Samson and her board on his Facebook page. Titled “Rebels without a cause,” Jaitley’s note states: “Along with my colleague Shri Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, I look after the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. At no point either of us have communicated with any member of the Censor Board or desired that any bureaucrat to do the same. I have not met or spoken to any member of the Censor Board, nor authorized anyone to do the same.”
About the corruption charges within the CBFC, Jaitley states: “I only wished that the fact of corruption had been communicated even once by the chairperson of the Censor Board to me. The nonfunctional chairperson never did so.”
Jaitley goes on to accuse the previous government of politicising the CBFC. But the new board contains a significant number of politically active members loyal to the BJP to serve alongside Nihalani.
They include BJP national secretary Vani Tripathi Tikoo; actor George Baker, who contested and lost the 2014 elections on a BJP ticket; actress, director and producer Jeevitha, who is a BJP member; and actor and playwright S.V. Sekar, who is an active member of the BJP’s propaganda wing.