Censor board accused of bias

Censor board accused of bias

A filmmaker and a censor board member allege the board works on whims and fancies.

The original poster of the film Paarane.

Filmmaker Shreelesh Nair and censor board member Girija Vijayakumar do not know each other. But when they raised their voices against the Karnataka regional officer of the Central Board of Film Certification in a space of a few weeks, they were saying the same thing: “the censor board must introspect and renew itself”.

Shreelesh Nair 

Shreelesh and Girija come from vastly different backgrounds.

Shreelesh made his debut in 2018 with the Kodava film Paarane, which talks about the crisis of immigration in Kodava today. Shreelesh believes distributors and theatres wouldn’t care for his ‘naturalistic’ style of filmmaking and that he would only be appreciated in film festivals. And for anyone who can’t catch it there, he’s hoping Netflix or a similar forum would pick up his film.

But even to screen the film at festivals, you need a certificate from the board and he’s been denied that.

Girija has been a member of the Board of Film Certification in Bengaluru since July 2017. She is a veteran of Kannada popular entertainment, an experienced actor in TV serials and theatre.

She also claims to be the first woman to do a PhD on the most enduring icon of Kannada popular entertainment, Dr. Rajkumar.

But she has not been called to review any movie since December.

Girija Vijayakumar

They concur when they say ‘small fry’ like themselves do not make it big in the entertainment industry.

Influenced by filmmakers such as
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan (of ‘Sexy Durga’ fame) for whom mise-en shots are an unavoidable part of filmmaking, Shreelesh’s 94-minute-film is composed with just about ten shots, the first of which is over 20 minutes long.

Unlike former censor board chairman Pahlaj Ninalani, who often protested against films for their sexual content, Regional Officer Srinivasappa’s issue with Paarane was allegedly the long shots and the lack of close-ups in Paarane. He also felt that Kodagu “wasn’t looking green enough” in it, ultimately refusing it a certificate.

Shreelesh said he tried to argue with Srinivasappa, telling him that something new was being attempted in his film. Shreelesh also tried to find out the precise rules to be followed while making a film are but got no clear answers. This made him feel Srinivasappa was “setting his own rules”.

The filmmaker eventually got angry and said “If you tell me what these rules are, next time I will not care for what I want and instead direct a film just to satisfy the censor board.”

If Paarane had made it big, it would have been a strong case for funding films with off-beat themes that can be made with just a couple of lakhs. Now, without a certificate, even the path to film festivals and National Awards, that Shreelesh had cut out for Paarane, is closed.

Some films for which the censor board laid out hurdles, such as Lipstick under my Burqa, had well-known cast members, which ensured that the hurdles were noticed by the media and the general public, and therefore talked about. Shreelesh does not enjoy that luxury, having cast random people he met at hotels and on streets in Kodagu as his actors.

Also, the media seems more keen to discuss the rejection of a movie if it is making points that are either controversially sexual or controversially political. Shreelesh’s movie doesn’t fall into either of these categories, and his daring is mostly formalist in nature.

Girija used to review a movie a week since she joined the board, but after a verbal spat with Srinivasappa in December, she hasn’t been called for a single screening.

A poster that the makers of the film had brought
out after it was refused a CBFC certificate.

“When a movie is chosen by the board, there are two screenings, one usually before lunch and one after lunch. Four censors attend each of these screenings and the Regional Officer (RO) will be there for both of them. However, the individual opinions of these eight censors do not count -- the RO would have made up his mind. The censors have to agree with him.”

The censors are generally chosen by the central government from among experienced persons from a wide variety of disciplines. While that ensures that certification is conducted by people with diverse backgrounds, it also means few of them have an in-depth understanding of cinema.

“As not many censors have a great knowledge of cinema when they join, they must be sent to film appreciation courses to understand films better. But you start censoring films almost immediately after you start, with just a basic orientation,” she said.

She claims that those who are in Srinivasappa’s good books get to review more movies.

While she has spoken to Censor Board chairman Prasoon Joshi about her crisis over the phone, there has been no action on his part.

Shreelesh did not get to present his film at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and, now, the films to be screened at this year’s BIFFes have already been chosen.

For someone who had made the film especially for film festivals, this is a big setback.

However, Shreelesh does not have the money to persist on re-evaluation and is in no mood to trouble the producer any more as “there’s been enough of that already.”

And unless the censor board or the government takes note of his plight and does something, Paarane may never get released, in either theatres or festivals.

Girija has very little time left, with her tenure ending in July. If the status quo continues, she would end up not reviewing any movie for the last quarter of her tenure.

The ball is now in the court of the authorities.