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What You Need to Know about India’s New Film Censor Board

Picture of Sridevi Nambiar
Updated: 4 September 2017
India’s controversial film censor board recently received a dramatic makeover, signaling an end to what many consider to be a dark era of irrational censorship in Indian cinema. The body had come across much criticism, particularly over the past year, for its dealing with a variety of acclaimed films, including Lipstick Under My Burkha.

The censor board’s decision to replace its longtime chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani and team with one headed by acclaimed poet Prasoon Joshi comes days after its controversial attempt to censor several words, including “cow,” from a documentary about Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

Under Pahlaj Nihalani, the country’s censor board had come across many controversies. The board notoriously refused to certify award-winning Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) for being “lady-oriented,” thereby blocking its release in the country until a court reversed the decision. In another incident, the board demanded 94 cuts from Udta Punjab (2016), a critically acclaimed film on the state of Punjab’s drug abuse epidemic, until a court intervened and a reminder that the CBFC’s job is to “certify films, not censor” them.

Prasoon Joshi, the Central Board of Film Certification’s new chairperson, is among India’s leading songwriters, and a two-time winner of the prestigious National Film Award. Having once stated that the country shouldn’t even have censorship in an ideal world, Joshi is well respected in the film industry and generally welcome in this new role.

The announcement of Joshi’s appointment also comes with that of several other new members to the board, including popular actors Vidya Balan, Gautami Tadimalla, and director and producer Vivek Agnihotri. Vani Tripathi Tikoo, another member of the censor board, is a vocal opponent of censorship, and argues that the body should just have the duty of certifying films.

Balan, a National Film Award winner who also happens to be celebrated for her strong and vocal stances on several social issues, called the censor board’s makeover a “new and exciting phase where [Indian] cinema will be allowed to reflect the sensibilities, realities and the complexities of the society we are living in today.”