Pankaja Thakur is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), commonly known as the Censor Board of India. This post was lying vacant for more than a decade until Pankaja was appointed in 2010. She joined CBFC as an examining officer, then got promoted to became the CEO. Before joining CBFC she served as a Deputy Commissioner of Customs at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai. A bureaucrat with the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), she has held assignments like screening baggage at the airport. One more thing about Pankaja is that she is also an actress. She has acted in a film “Eik Dastak.” Pankaja, a real life Deputy Commissioner of Customs, takes on the role of an Income Tax officer in the film. This film was written and directed by Sudhanshu Shekhar Jha, who is also a IRS officer. She spoke to NRI Achievers at the Siri Fort Auditorium, when was in Delhi a while ago.
Does CBFC have the power to ban films ?
Banning a film is a dream, even for CBFC. We do not even use the word “ban”. We could issue a rejection certificate, but that’s not rejection per se. If filmmakers are dissatisfied with cuts demanded, or the rating granted by the board’s examining committee, they can appeal to a revising committee where more members review the film. If still unhappy, they can approach the Appellate Tribunal, and thereafter the courts.
Which films have run into problems or have been asked to cut scenes by the certification board lately ?
About 90 percent movies get cleared without a problem, without cuts demanded by the examining committee itself. Recently, Ashvin Kumar’s documentary “Inshallah, Football” was granted an “A” certificate (Adults Only) by the Certification Board. The theme wasn’t considered appropriate for children. Prakash Jha’s political film “Raajneeti” (2010) had some problem with board. This film was later cleared by the Appellate Tribunal. Shekhar Kapur’s “Bandit Queen” (1996) was another one that was finally passed by the Supreme Court.
Could you care to talk to us about some of the few recent unpopular CBFC decisions ?
Well, an English film “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was one. The Censor Board’s examining committee demanded a few cuts in the film with specific reference to frontal nudity and sexual content. The board wanted two sexually explicit scenes between the lead characters Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) and Mikael (Daniel Craig) to be cut out. A lesbian scene featuring Lisbeth and a girl she meets at the bar and a brutal rape were also cited as objectionable. Sony Pictures chose not to exhibit the film in India.
Should there separate guidelines for foreign or Hollywood films ?
The interpretable guidelines are the same. But we do keep in mind the cultural context of countries the films come from.
Do you think the Censor Board is a tad lenient towards lyrics of today’s films ?
We even had Monica O my darling (Caravan) years ago. Then, we have had some pretty bold lyrics – Choli ke peecche (Khalnayak). There was an Amitabh Bachchan song – Hum to tamboo mein bamboo (Mard). So there is nothing wrong with Sheila ki jawani. I was one of the panellists to object to this song, as I would not like my daughter singing, “I am too sexy for you” as the lyrics of the song go, but we can not bring in our personal value systems while making decisions.
What would your reaction be to the jibe that CBFC is looking askance at vulgar songs in films nowadays ?
Well, every film that comes to us today has item songs with such lyrics. Usually the music is released a month before the film’s release. By the time it has earned enough air play and has become popular. So who are we to judge if it should be censored as it is already been liked so much by people and become a hit in society? In this case, we can’t be cutting down every song.
Cinema is oft maligned as the root-cause of sexual violence or other acts of violence in society. What’s your reaction ?
It is not justifiable to assert that violence comes from cinema or is spurred by cinema. Because what happened in Delhi – the gang-rape – I have not seen any film that shows such a gruesome act. First of all, no filmmaker in his right mind would show it, and secondly, even if one did, we would definitely not allow such to pass. And the people who were part of the gang, I don’t think were great cinema lovers either.
Grapewine has it that you are partial to some filmmakers, have a soft corner for them. That you have been very liberal to Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor etc. What would you like to say to that ?
Not at all. You must research for accurate details first before saying or making a story.
You cleared Delhi Belly without any cuts. Agneepath was given a U/A rating instead of A despite all the gore and violence. Why ?