NEW DELHI: The controversy over film Udta Punjab boiled over with allegations being traded thick and fast. Even as Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani came under sharp attack from not just the film fraternity, he ruffled many feathers as he alleged that director Anurag Kashyap could have been funded by Aam Aadmi Party.
Nihalani’s allegation implied that Kashyap could be playing in the hands of AAP which has emerged as many contender for power in the state as elections are due in February next year. AAP had been raising the issue drugs problem in Punjab, which is also the theme of the movie.
Nahalani’s allegations escalated the war of words to another level that is unlikely to die down soon. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that Nihalani's statement makes it amply clear that he has stopped the film on "BJP's instructions".
BJP leader and union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy rejected Kejriwal’s statement. "I completely reject it (charge) that the government has any role or intervened to stop its release. AAP survives on controversies.
Nihalani’s comments did not go down well with bollywood actors and directors who stood firmly behind Kashyap and the film citing case of creative freedom and freedom of expression. Kashyap also approached the Bombay high Court seeking a copy of the order passed by Censor Board's Review Committee suggesting "13 changes" and removing reference to Punjab in the film.
The revising committee had suggested 13 changes to be made by the film makers besides removing the reference to Punjab state in the film. According to the committee, the changes were suggested
as the film was not in conformity with the Cinematograph Act.
Superstar Amitabh Bachchan too said that the creativity should not be killed. "I am not aware of the issue, but would like to say that don't try to kill creativity. Filmmakers can approach tribunal and courts, only problem is censoring comes near the release of a film," Bachchan said. Aamir Khan also came out in support of "Udta Punjab", saying the voice of a filmmaker should not be throttled.
Film personalities like Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt and Anurag Kashyap alleged that the Censor Board was intentionally delaying the film's clearance.
Demanding his sacking, Mukesh Bhatt said Nahalani should be removed.
"That is something intolerable, unacceptable to film fraternity and we want him out. His move is malicious and vicious. He lies, delays the process and will bully the person," Mukesh, President, the Film and Producers Guild of India, told reporters at a joint news conference in Mumbai that included the cast of the film.
As the makers of the fim charged that Nihalani was delaying the certificate, unfazed by opposition Nihalani said they themselves did not come to collect it but went to media.
"We met with the producers on Monday and told them about the cuts. They said, 'If we get cuts, will you give us the certificate?' I said, 'Of course yes'. But they did not turn up to collect the letter. They directly went to media. Today they came to collect the letter," Nihalani said in his defence.
But what escalated the fight was Nihalani’s charge that he heard that the filmmaker had taken money from AAP to show Punjab in bad light.
Interestingly, Ashoke Pandit, member of the Censor Board and president of Indian Films and Television Directors Association also attacked Nihalani.
"This is not just an insult to Kashyap but to the film industry as a whole,” Pandit said.
Political parties were quick to jump into the fray. AAP leader Ashish Khetan said that Nihalani must apologize to Kashyap for
levelling the allegation or else he should be sacked.
Kejriwal said in series of tweets. “Pahlaj Nihlani's statement makes it amply clear that he has stopped the film on BJP's instructions.."
"Udta Punjab Censored. What else could one expect in Modi regime? What will you eat, say, read, see or say, will be decided by RSS and Modi ji. Very scary. Punjab's youth has been ruined due to drugs. Punjab's truth should come in front of everyone," he said.
Nihalani also rejected allegations that he is under any political pressure. In Delhi, the Information and Broadcasting ministry tried to clear of controversy saying censor board was an independent body.