Isn’t it an irony that Udta Punjab (Punjab on a High), a film dealing with the rampant drug issue in Punjab, has not been able to take off due to the very topic it deals in the movie?
The bitter row over the film that was slated for release on June 7, escalated when the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), headed by Pahlaj Nihalini, asked the film-makers to remove all references to Punjab and to make 89 cuts. Nihalini has been making quite some news since he took over the CBFC, popularly known as the Censor Board, on 19 January 2015.
Anurag Kashyap, the co-producer of Udta Punjab has lashed out at Nihalani, calling him an “oligarch” and a “dictator”. Kashyap says with so much of control over art, it feels like living in North Korea. Kashyap is backed by the Bollywood film fraternity, including super stars Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and filmmakers Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt, Ram Gopal Varma and Mukesh Bhatt, who feel this is an attempt to curb creativity and art.
For someone wondering what is the big deal about showing drug-related issues of a certain state, the hitch lies somewhere else. Polls in Punjab are slated early next year, and the Opposition parties in the state have built their election campaigns against the ruling Akali Dal around the drug issue.
The Congress and Aam Aadmi Party have alleged that Nihalani, a known BJP supporter, has demanded the cuts not due to artistic reasons, but to serve the BJP, a partner of the Akali Dal. Kashyap has dragged the Board to the Bombay High Court, and on Thursday, after hearing the objections raised by the producers of Udta Punjab, it has questioned the suggested cuts by the CBFC that were central to the film.
The court is right. Cinema is purely for entertainment, and the drug issue of Punjab is not a hush-hush matter. State dailies report the rampant abuse of drugs in Punjab. The representation of drug abuse and wasted youths is a reality, and we are better off knowing the truth. Nihalini should let the masses decide what they can handle, and what they can’t.
It’s no secret that drugs are peddled from Patti (near Amritsar) across the Pakistan border, to Ferozepur and Faridkot districts. Another serious problem of the state is alcoholism and smoking among the school-going young lot. Most of the local media reports suggest involvement of political bigwigs running drug rackets in Punjab.
Sweet-coating a hard-hitting film won’t help in tackling with the menace. Also Kashyap, who has made sensible films in the past, knows the rules of the game and I am sure he will not do anything controversial. The common masses of Punjab would have no issues with Udta Punjab; they would rather want the wayward youth to watch the film and realize the dangers.
Nihalini should let loose the reins; after all, he has made many cringe-worthy movies in the past that went ahead without any cut from the Censor Board.