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India Fires Controversial Chief Censor Pahlaj Nihalani

The Indian government has sacked its chief censor Pahlaj Nihalani. His bizarre decisions had outraged the film industry against the Central Board of Film Certification, also known as the Censor Board of India.

Nahalani is to be replaced by Prasoon Joshi, a leading light in both the film and advertising industries. Urbane and approachable, Joshi has numerous script and songwriting credits on films including “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” “Rang de Basanti,” and “Taare Zameen Par.” He is simultaneously CEO of McCann World group India, and Asia Pacific chairman of global marketing firm McCann Erickson.

In his two and a half-year tenure at the Censor Board Nihalani’s decisions ranged between the conservative, the politically-motivated and the simply baffling. He ordered cuts to the love scenes in James Bond film “Spectre,” the banning of “Lipstick under My Burkha” on the grounds that the film about female sexuality was “lady-oriented” and might offend Muslims. The decisions were reversed on appeal to the courts.

With the film “Udta Punjb” about the state’s drug problems, Nahalani ordered 89 cuts in order to remove references to drugs, elections and Punjab. Again, a court reversed all but one edit. In another film, he ordered the words “cow” and “Hindu India” to be removed.

His most recent controversy came with the Shah Rukh Khan-starring “Jab Harry Met Sejal.” Nahalani objected to the word “intercourse” in a trailer, but said it could be restored if there were a public poll. He said that the word could stay if 100,000 people voted to keep it in. When that hurdle was surpassed, he added a few provisos. The votes have to be from married people aged 36 and above, as they are likely to have 12-year-old children.

The International Documentary Association began a campaign to clear the documentary “An Insignificant Man. There Nahalani asked the producers to bleep out the names of the BJP and Congress Party, the main opposition party in India.

India has a history of problematic relations with its censors. A former producer, Pahalani was appointed after his predecessor Leela Samson resigned in protest at government interference. In 2004, actor Anupam Kher was fired as censor board chief to make way for a replacement, actress Sharmila Tagore, whose politics were more the liking of the government of the day. Actor-director, Vijay Anand quit mid way through his term, after his controversial recommendation that X-rated films be certified and shown in special theaters, met with a fierce reaction.

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