'Discussion, dialogue and mutual respect for varied points of view,' is what filmmakers can expect from the Censor Board, its new chief Prasoon Joshi tells Subhash K Jha.
Prasoon Joshi's appointment as the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification came as no surprise to informed sources in the ministry of information and broadcasting, I reported in these columns the morning after the famed lyricist and advertising personality was asked to replace the controversial Pahlaj Nihalani.
"Prasoon Joshi was a frontrunner for the post," an informed source in the ministry had told me then.
"They wanted someone young, vibrant, contemporary and liberal in thought and of an intellectual bent of mind though not overly intellectualised in his approach to Hindi cinema."
Three weeks after his appointment, what does Prasoon Joshi believe are the challenges ahead?
What was your reaction to the new responsibility>?
I was on a flight when the announcement was made and was deluged with messages and calls as soon as I landed.
From my perspective this responsibility requires a collaborative approach.
There is widespread speculation about the likely changes at the CBFC.
What can I say about speculation? Of course suggestions that come from thinking minds can provide insight.
As far as frameworks are concerned, as an industry we operate as one and as part of the eco-system so does the CBFC.
Where there are current guidelines my attempt would be to guide and view the work holistically.
Your predecessor Pahlaj Nihalani made many unpopular decisions. Do you see yourself as reversing the negative image that the CBFC has acquired lately?
Mr Nihalani is a senior member of the industry and it would not be fair to comment on his tenure.
Also I think the focus should not be on whether a decision is popular, but whether it's a sound one.
Progress cannot be done in isolation.
So what is your short-term solution?
The CBFC and the film industry need to collaborate so that there is mutual understanding and appreciation of each one's roles and responsibilities.
Producers expect you to be 'liberal', as they define liberal, meaning they think under your stewardship the CBFC will provide certification to all films without cuts.
When one comes with an open mind respectful of varied points of view, then any particular definition or tag is not relevant.
I fully understand that creative people don't like to be made overtly conscious of their work through checks and balances.
But surely every progressive culture needs to restrain itself.
I agree. Most of the time internal checks and balances develop organically in the community.
As far as possible I would like to be guided by that principle.
Is there any self-imposed guideline that you will use as censor chief?
We have taken cognisance of the vulnerable ends of our society.
For when we are interested in creating for people at large we can't create in absolute suspension and tapered interest and some important aspects are best kept in mind.
It sounds like a thankless task,
It's not simple, yes, but then life is about trying to strike a fine balance.
While the popular liberal view stipulates that the CBFC only certify films, the information and broadcasting ministry guidelines suggest that scenes and shots that are 'objectionable' be pruned.
How do you look at this dichotomy between what should be and what is?
There are views that there should only be certification of content and the decision to decide what is appropriate or good or inappropriate should be left to the audience.
This view I can understand, but we all also know that it is a layered and complex society we live in with, not all having the same information and sensibility filters.
To begin with, we need to ensure that those not in an empowered state or situation to decide, are also taken note of.
Say, for example children. It is about the power of informed choice.
And for that to come into complete play it is important that there are no gaps in audience awareness and information about the kind of content being presented.
We need to work towards any goal with awareness and responsibility from all ends.
Do you feel the audience should be given the right to see all films regardless of the quality of the content?
If we are talking about the quality of content produced by our cinema, I genuinely feel we have such a huge talent pool and so much richness of narrative to draw from that we can leverage the finer aspects not just for our country or sub-continent, but create a deeper more influential impact on world cinema and global audiences.
What should filmmakers expect from you as the censor chief?
Discussion, dialogue and mutual respect for varied points of view.
THE PRASOON JOSHI INTERVIEWS
- 'If you aim to be authentic, you have to borrow from your life'
- 'Our society has become transactional'
- 'India is such a fantastic country'
IMAGE: Prasoon Joshi cleans the streets outside the Sofi Mahal building in Lalbaug, South Mumbai, as part of Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Photograph: Sahil Salvi