Mumbai, India | AFP | India’s film industry on Monday welcomed the departure of the country’s chief film censor, who had stoked controversy by axing James Bond’s kissing scenes and briefly blocking the release of a movie for being too “lady-oriented”.
The government said late Friday it was replacing Pahlaj Nihalani as chief of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) with Prasoon Joshi, an award-winning screenwriter.
No reason was given, but many in India’s vibrant film industry felt the censorship board’s demands for cuts and other changes were stifling creative freedoms.
“Film-makers faced a huge problem with Nihalani’s one-man show and attitude towards censorship, which left no room for negotiations or debates,” said film-maker Ashok Pandit, who served on the CBFC’s panel under Nihalani.
“This attitude affected many movies and film-makers in the last three years and I am happy with the ministry’s decision to replace him with a much more reasonable chief,” he told AFP.
Nihalani said he had received no word from the government and had only heard through media reports that he was being replaced.
He defended his record, saying India needed a more conservative approach than other countries, and he had only been following the board’s own rules.
“Only two percent of Indian film-makers make pornographic, vulgar and obscene films, while the remaining were supportive of my work,” he told AFP by phone.
“We need a better rating system to match international standards. But people need to understand: the old way of traditional thinking is fantastic for a country like India.”
India’s censors have a long history of barring movies and cutting scenes, including those deemed too racy or likely to cause religious offence.
But under Nihalani the board’s decisions were seen as particularly draconian.
In 2015 it blocked the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey” in India and also demanded that the kissing scenes in the Bond movie “Spectre” be cut.
Earlier this year it briefly blocked the release of “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, a comedy about the secret lives of four Indian women, saying it was “lady-oriented” and contained “abusive words”.
The film’s makers appealed and it was eventually cleared for release.
Veteran Indian director Shyam Benegal praised Nihalani’s successor and said his appointment was “a good step by the government”.
“Joshi will make decisions in line with the democratic values of India,” he told AFP.
Others were even more forthright.
“Congrats to the CBFC for implementing a very, very sensible cut,” the Indian actor Vir Das tweeted after Nihalani’s exit.