'We don’t want to interfere in the running of the CBFC'
'Motives of people taking up issues may not be reflective of the certification process in the CBFC. Their motive may be something else'
'Artistic endeavours should not have a template'
'There 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,' Minister for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore tells Subhash K Jha.
Ever since Olympic champ Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore -- he won India a silver medal in 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 this interview with Subhash K Jha, Rathore proves he is a sharpshooter with words as well as with a rifle.
How much visual and verbal violence would the Central Board of Film Certification allow?
It is entirely 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 get into negotiations with film producers about what can be taken out or not taken out of a film.
In our wisdom, we have 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 are unquestionable.
How conservative or liberal do the current government policies allow our cinema to be?
The government is absolutely contemporary in outlook.
If you listen to the prime minister, you will realise that he is working in a very contemporary environment and intends 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 that purpose.
The PM has said, ‘Maximum governance, minimum government.’ We are 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 board is part of the government.
There was some initial confusion with Leela Samson’s resignation from 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.
Two CBFC members, Ashoke Pandit and Dr Chandraprakash Diwedi, have spoken out strongly against the working method of CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani. Your comments?
Individual utterances should have no place in a government organisation. 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.
A member of an organisation such as the CBFC must realise the sanctity and prestige of the organisation and must respect them.
There is 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 them?
I have had a word with a few board members. I told them clearly that differences on professional issues are always welcome but they should be expressed and sorted out within the CBFC and not in public spaces.
Past relationships must not colour your judgement.
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 Rs 300 crore in every movie. The stakes are 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 there is 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 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 endeavour, 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 I & B minister, I cannot comment on this beyond a point. But artistic endeavours 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 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 certification?
Yes. 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 certification.
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 will be no unwarranted delays in certification.
Producers are also clamouring to get rid of the anti-smoking ticker that they are forced to incorporate in their films.
I am very eager to discuss and find a solution to this.
We have to keep in mind that stars are icons. The message conveyed by the actors determines societal behaviour.
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 committee submitted its report two years ago. We are in the process of updating the Cinematography Act.
Some questions about your life. An Olympic winner who is the minister for Information & Broadcasting -- that is quite a unique 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 have lots of iconic seniors like Arun Jaitley, who is my immediate senior, to guide me.
Once you put yourself into politics you realise how hard the work is.
It’s a very stressful life.
And thankless, too, since the public perceives all politicians to be corrupt?
Very true. It undoubtedly requires a great amount of personal conviction and courage to keep going.
Family life suffers. My son is in class 10 and 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 lives have 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 fulfill professional duties.
She is an amazing doctor. And the balancing factor in my life.
She has chosen to make this sacrifice. The children will reap the benefits of her immense sacrifice.
Photograph: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore/Facebook