Hansal Mehta takes on the Censor Board

Hansal Mehta who has challenged the censor board through RTIs feels films attached to big corporate houses are being treated differently from films from independent directors.

Shahid‘s belatedly-celebrated director Hansal Mehta has filed an RTI (Right To Information) requesting information in why Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela was given a ‘UA’ certificate. The CBFC has replied,

Says Hansal, “I got a response from the Censor Board Of Film Certification (CBFC). They are supposed to send you a response to your RTI on exactly the 30th day. I am afraid the response is in very poor English. From what I understood, the justification given in the letter is that there are other films with kissing and violence given a ‘UA’ certificate. But my dispute is not about the content of Ram Leela. It’s about why my film Shahid was given an ‘A’ certificate. The film’s message needed to reach itself to young boys. 13-14 year old boys get brainwashed into joining terror organizations. I had hoped they’d learn from Shahid‘s experiences.”

Not willing to stop there Hansal has also filed an RTI asking to know why Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe was granted a ‘UA’ certificate.

While Bhansali and Mehta don’t know one another well enough, the RTI does put a strain on the friendship between Mehta and Shoojit Sircar.

Taking time off from shooting his new film City Lights on a road in Byculla in Mumbai, Hansal says, “I want to clarify that I’ve nothing against Sanjay Bhansali or Ram Leela. I liked Ram Leela. As for my other RTI, I loved Madras Cafe and Shoojit Sircar is an old friend. My objections to the seemingly arbitrary decisions of the CBFC. My battle is with the CBFC. It started with Ram Leela where there was violence, kissing and double-meanings. I enjoyed Ram Leela. My problem is, why was a different yardstick used against my film?”

Shockingly Hansal imputes a communal slant to the censorship code. “People on twitter have said there cannot be the same yardstick for a Muslim protagonist as a Hindu. There is a theory that Indians don’t want to watch films which feature Muslim protagonists. The Examining Committee of the CBFC asked me to remove Shivaji Maharaj’s name from the dialogues of Shahid when his name was not used in any derogatory or incriminating way. Unless I removed the name they refused to grant me a certificate although I explained the context of the reference. What is the whole point behind inviting a filmmaker to a screening while censoring? The idea is to let the filmmaker explain the context of a scene, shot or dialogue that seems controversial. But the censor board was not willing to listen to me. They had come there with their biases and communal prejudices. I refused to cut Shivaji’s name out. I went to the Revising Committee. The then CEO of the CBFC apologized to me. But then they said they’d give me an ‘A’ certificate because Shahid according to them was very violent. Where was the violence in Shahid?”

Hence, Hansal’s next RTI against Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe. “The violence in this film is shockingly graphic. I had to send my sons to another room while I was watching Madras Cafe. At the very beginning there’s a shot of a child being shot. I am not questioning Shoojit’s right to have that sequence. But if this kind of violence gets him a ‘UA’ certificate why not my Shahid?”

Then Hansal makes a slamming insinuation. “When I took Shahid to the CBFC, UTV had not acquired my film. I had gone to the censors on my own. I feel that’s the reason my film was treated so harshly. I feel when a film is co-produced by a corporate house the CBFC is lenient. Ram Leela and Madras Cafe had Eros and Viacom 18 behind it. But when I asked UTV to fight the censorial decision on Shahid, they advised me against it.”

So is Hansal accusing the censor board of corruption? Says Hansal, “I can’t say that because I’ve no proof. But there is definitely something wrong here. There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest something seriously amiss. I know the law after shooting for Shahid. So I know what I’m doing. I am filing multiple RTIs against the CBFC. I am also putting an RTI for Grand Masti. I want to understand the criteria for censor certifications.”

Hansal says he wants transparency in the censorship. “I’ve asked the CBFC for the minutes of their meetings while censoring films. I’ve got the minutes for Ram Leela. They are very very sketchy. I hope to see some transparency in the matter of censorship. This is to exorcise my own demons. I don’t want to wallow in the assumption that something is gravely wrong in the way the CBFC treated Shahid. Very honestly I am not doing this for anyone else except me. I am not Arvind Kejriwal. If my battle helps other filmmakers I’d be happy.”

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