Ever since the Olympian champ Rajyavardhan Rathore (he won India a medal for shooting at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens) took over as the Minister For Information and Broadcasting, he has been attempting to bridge the growing gap between the government and the film industry. In an interview with Subhash K Jha, Mr. Rathore proves he is a sharp shooter with the rifle as well as with words.
Firstly, a blunt question, how much visual and verbal violence would the Censor Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) be allowed?
It is entire up to the censor board to decide. We believe that the content of every film must be context-based. Every word, every scene must be judged within the film’s context and must be accordingly satisfied. We believe the CBFC’s primary job is certification and it should, not at all, get into negotiations with film producers about what can be taken out or not taken out of film. In our wisdom, we’ve elected professionals of the highest merit as members of the jury. People will talk about political leanings of the board members. But, finally, the credentials of each board member is unquestionable.
Mr. Rathore, how conservative or liberal do the current governmental policies allow our cinema to be?
The government is absolutely contemporary in outlook. If you listen to the Prime Minister, you’ll realize that he is working in a very contemporary environment and intends only to take the nation forward. Our government is very clear that it has no direct role to play in film certification. There is a Censor Board For Film Certification for that purpose. The PM had said, ‘Maximum Governance, Minimum Government.’ And, we’re now implementing that. We don’t want to interfere in the running of the CBFC. In fact, we did not replace anyone in the CBFC when we took over. We haven’t been vindictive at all. The earlier government had done exactly that, replaced the earlier board members in the CBFC in 2004. We do not believe in that kind of politics. The Censor Board belongs to the government and every member of the censor board is part of the government. There was some initial confusion with Leela Samson’s resignation in the CBFC when we took over at the Centre. However, it was apparent very soon that she had recommended some changes and those changes were not implemented. So her resignation had nothing to do with our government.
Mr. Rathore, two CBFC members Ashoke Pandit and Dr. Chandraprakash Diwedi have spoken out strongly against the working method of the CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani. Your comments?
Individual utterances should have no place in a governmental organization. All decisions and statements have to be collective. The motives of people taking up issues may not be reflective of the certification process in the CBFC. Their motive may be something else. I must say any member of an organization such as the CBFC must realize the sanctity and prestige of the organization and must respect them. There is a grace required in their conduct. They have to transcend their routine personalities keeping in mind the positions and responsibilities attached to the job.
Have you spoken to the two rebellious board members?
I have had a word with a few board members. And I very clearly told them, differences on professional issues are always welcome but they should be expressed and sorted within the CBFC and not in public spaces. Past relationships must not colour your judgement.
The CBFC has been most liberal with recent films like Badlapur and NH10. And yet, there are strong protests about lack of freedom?
The film industry’s reactions are based on a pre-conceived notion that this government cannot be anything but conservative. Hence, any action that we take would be viewed through a prism of suspicion and distrust. Hence, the uproar about is based on perception rather than reality. We firmly want to send this message across to the film industry: allow us the freedom of a neutrality of your opinion before forming another opinion.
According to you, how much violence is permissible given a film’s context?
We all belong to one nation. When we last had a meeting with the producers’ guild, one of the producers told me, “Mr. Rathore, we invest 300 crores in every movie. The stakes are therefore very high”. To this, I replied, “We invest an invaluable amount in building a nation. The stakes can’t get any higher than that.” How much violence actually goes in a film is entirely the filmmaker’s call. Our job as the film certification body is to tell the public what age-group every film is viewable for, so that, every family knows what lies in store when it goes for a film.
Are you in favour of allowing parents the complete right to decide what their children view?
I think there are limitations to that freedom because films are viewed in a public space. Parents do have a large role to play in deciding what content children should watch. I must also mention that producers and filmmakers play a very large part in putting out unacceptable content just to get the maximum eyeballs during the opening weekend. In this endeavor, they tend to go a few steps further than what the films really demand or need. However, the CBFC’s mandate is to go by the script and judge the content according to the requirement of the script. As for filmmakers, they should attempt to convey the essence of the script without going overboard. By all means, when violence is needed, so be it.
Should filmmakers exercise some amount of self-censorship?
I’d merely call it the art of storytelling. As a Minister of I & B, I cannot comment on this beyond a point. But artistic endeavors should not have a template.
A film delegation met you about the problems faced during outdoor shooting. What would you like to say about that?
Those are problems related to the Indian film industry that I’d like to address rather than to keep harping on the negative zone of hurdles in film certification. We strongly believe that our film industry has a global relevance. Every film is a cultural ambassador. For the growth of the industry, we’d like to create a regular interaction with the film industry so as to solve all the problems of the industry including those faced during outdoor shooting. This body can directly approach the central government regarding any problem thereby eliminating the need for a third party.
Are you also looking at online censorship?
Yes, we are. We want to create as much transparency in our working as possible. I have heard of some of our regional members in the Censor Board flaunting their visiting cards and misusing their authority. It shames me. We are therefore looking at online censorship. I’ve instructed the CEO of the CBFC to start working on a schedule that we’ll go public with for producers. Through online certification, we want to reduce the interaction between CBFC board members and producers, so that no negotiation takes place over what scenes are to be cut. We want to instill confidence in producers that there would be no unwarranted delays in certification.
Producers are also clamoring to get rid of the anti-smoking films and tickers that they are forced to incorporate in their films?
I am very eager to discuss and find a solution to this. We’ve to keep in mind that stars are icons. The message conveyed by the actors determines societal behavior. If there is an alternative to the no-smoking warnings, the Ministry would be very happy to make those changes.
Do you think the guidelines pertaining to censorship need to be revised?
Oh, absolutely! We have to change with the times. Justice Mudgal’s committee submitted its report two years ago. We are in the process of updating the ‘Cinematography Act’.
Some questions about your life…An Olympian winner who is the Minister for Information & Broadcasting, that is quite a unique and impressive leap?
God has been kind and then there were the blessings of my elders. I’ve given my best to whatever I’ve taken on in life. The same goes for my current position. I’ve lots of iconic seniors like Arun Jaitleyji who is my immediate senior, to guide me. Once you put yourself into politics, you realize how hard the work is. It’s a very stressful life.
Yes, and thankless. Since the public perceives all politicians as corrupt?
Very true. It undoubtedly requires a great amount of personal conviction and courage to keep going on. And the family life suffers. My son is in Class 10 my daughter is in Class 7. My wife was an officer in the army and is a doctor.
How far is their life affected?
My children’s life has thankfully not changed. My wife, who has chosen to give up her medical practice to be a home-maker, keeps my children grounded. One of us had to be at home for the other to fulfil the professional duties. She is an amazing doctor. And the balancing factor in my life. And she’s chosen to make this sacrifice. The children will reap the benefits of her immense sacrifice.