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Sen censorship is new sequel to conflict over CBFC’s politics

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The Amartya Sen documentary censorship row is being slammed as another indicator of the politicisation and autocratic ways of the CBFC.


The censorship of a prominent new documentary on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has once again shined a spotlight on the political conflict over the Central Board of Film Certification’s current leadership.

The CBFC would not issue a certificate for the film, The Argumentative Indian, unless the words ‘cow,’ ‘Gujarat,’ ‘Hindu India’ and ‘Hindutva view of India’ were bleeped out, director Suman Ghosh told reporters Wednesday. He added that he would refuse the censors recommendations and continue his application in court.

Filmmaker and CBFC board member Ashoke Pandit believes this censorship is part of a dangerous trend of politicisation at India’s top film certification body. “I don’t agree with Amartya Sen,” he said, “but we can’t stop anyone from talking.”

Pandit believes the CBFC’s current priorities reflect the interests of its current chairman, Pahlaj Nihalani, who is an outspoken supporter of PM Narendra Modi.

“All films can’t be made for Pahlaj Nihalani and his family,” Pandit added. “We were very happy when he was made chief, but now look at what’s happened.”

Dr. Chandrakumar Diwedi, another CBFC board member, echoed Pandit’s concerns about the organisation’s leadership, saying it had become an “autocratic regime”.

“Every word in the CBFC guidelines is being twisted and misrepresented,” said Diwedi. “If we don’t toe the line of the government, we are not included in reviewing sessions.”

Pahlaj Nihalani did not respond to ThePrint’s requests for comment.

The censorship of Ghosh’s film comes just after the CBFC requested cuts of 14 scenes from Indu Sarkar, a film about Indira Gandhi’s emergency. The CBFC, it has been reported, requested the filmmaker remove the words, “Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Intelligence Bureau, Prime Minister, Akali, Communist, Jayaprakash Narayan, Section officer, and Kishore Kumar.”

Likewise, less than four months ago the board rejected Lipstick Under my Burkha, a film about Muslim women seeking freedom in their private lives. The CBFC reportedly said in a letter to Lipstick’s producer that the film was rejected because it was “lady oriented,” and contained “sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”.

Amartya Sen, the subject of the Argumentative Indian, weighed in on the controversy Wednesday, saying in an NDTV interview that “The country is in the hands of an authoritarian regime, which wants to use these bodies…for the [benefit of the] government.”

“The ‘cow’ is not my favourite word,” he added. “It’s the favourite word of many members of the ruling party.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also condemned the CBFC’s decision, tweeting “Every single voice of the opposition is being muzzled.”

“If somebody of [Amartya Sen’s] stature cannot express himself freely, what hope does the common citizen have.”

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