“Udta Punjab” controversy – Is Censor Board ‘influenced’ by Political figures?

Indian constitution gives the right of speech and expressing view to every citizen of India. But this right seems to be restricted by regulatory authorities especially in Bollywood.

The current issue comes from a movie named “Udta Punjab” which is a crime thriller movie based on drugs and features Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor & Alia Bhatt in the lead roles.

Every movie, before it is released for general public, is certified by Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC). “Udta Punjab” was also examined by CBFC and it has asked the director to cut down 94 scenes from the movie. It has resulted in conflict between the “Udta Punjab” team and CBFC. The issue became more complicated after the entire film industry stood in favour of “Udta Punjab” team and opposed CBFC. If this was not enough, even the issue was shaped by political parties to address their own political condition in Punjab.  

The movie, as reported by Censor Board committee, focuses on Punjab-Drug problem. The movie has been coincidently scheduled for release when the current Chief Minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal and his team are again and again clarifying that Punjab has been defamed as drug-hub of country since Goa is the ultimate drug-hub and Punjab is only a transit route for drugs.   

No doubt, Punjab’s drug problem is real and the film highlights the issue. Punjab shares the 550 kilometres long border with Pakistan. Afghan opium are smuggled through Punjab in India. According to a study conducted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Punjab is a home to 2,30,000 drug addicts. Further according to another study conducted by United Nations office on Drugs and Crime, out of the total people injecting heroin in South Asia, 29% of them live alone in Punjab. 

How the controversy grew

After CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihlani and his team demanded 94 cuts, the co-producer of the movie Anurag Kashyap burst out on Pahlaj saying him dictator and accusing him of withdrawing right of expressing opinion. He got the support of various film makers, celebrities and few politicians as well which made the issue more complicated. 

What are the issues quoted by CBFC related to movie?

As per the report issued by CBFC, it has demanded 94 cuts in the movie. The committee has asked the team of “Udta Punjab” to remove name of cities of Punjab from movie. The scene, where the signboard displaying PUNJAB has been shown in movie, has also been asked to remove. All the abusive words used in the movie, “Jacky Chain” - name of a dog, words like election, MP, MLA and parliament have been asked to cut down.

CBFC has asked the director to remove a scene wherein actor Shahid Kapoor has been shown urinating in front of crowd.  Songs have also been asked to alter and abusive or vulgar words be removed from the songs wherever they occur.

Further CBFC also wants the director to add one more disclaimer in movie which reveals ‘efforts made by the government to tackle drug problem.’

How the controversy got shaded in political colour

State assembly elections are scheduled in Punjab in the upcoming year and the film controversy has been shaded in political colour. Aam Aadmi Party and Congress, the opposition parties criticised the censor board for being so “unfair” to the movie. Both of the parties held ruling party Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) – BJP alliance responsible for the issue and accused them of influencing the decision of censor board committee.

While SAD – BJP alliance denied the allegations promptly, they favoured the decision of censor board committee saying that the uncensored movie will stain the image of Punjab and its people.

It is pertinent to note that the political drama was attached with movie after censor board president accused the co-producer Anurag Kashyap of taking money from AAP party and making the movie to upset image of Punjab. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal not only denied the allegations, but accused back censor board president of taking the decision in influence of BJP.                

Latest update on the controversy

Bombay High Court has scolded CBFC on the issue. High Court has completed the hearing and is going to give its decision on 13th June. High Court said that rights of CBFC are restricted only up to certifying the display of movies, censoring the movies is not in the work scope. It is upon discretion of viewers to see the movies they like and skip the movies they don’t.

What Bollywood has to say on the issue?

Amitabh Bachchan, “I am not aware of the issue, but would like to say that don’t try to kill creativity. When you kill our creativity, you kill our soul. That would be detrimental to progress per say.

Aamir Khan, “It’s very unfortunate. I’m pained that the film is going through this. As per my knowledge, it is based on drug addiction and delivers a social message. I don’t think there is anything that should be cut or audience should be kept away.

As of now, the controversy doesn’t seem realistic on the entertainment grounds. It seems that the issue has been given more power by political parties to fulfil their political agendas right before the assembly elections. CBFC is also looking like a robot driven by the powerful politicians. Till the regulatory authorities doesn’t work independently, these social issues can’t be highlighted correctly.


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