Pahlaj Nihalani, whose decisions as the censor board chief repeatedly angered the film fraternity, was on Friday replaced by noted lyricist and ad guru Prasoon Joshi, drawing widespread applause from the film fraternity.

One of the most controversial censor board chairpersons who skirmished with film producers over cuts, beeps and disclaimers he insisted on, Nihalani told IANS: “I had been preparing myself for my exit for months now.”

He alleged that since the time he became CBFC chief in 2015 “there have been elements working against me, some of them from within the CBFC. These elements — I’m not going to name them on-record are currently celebrating premature Diwali.”

Nihalani sacked as censor board chief, Prasoon Joshi takes over
Nihalani sacked as censor board chief, Prasoon Joshi takes over

He also said he has no regrets on his ouster.

“None at all. Believe me, I was brought in as the CBFC chairperson all a sudden. I happily took up the job that the government thought me fit for. Now when the government has asked me to step down, I do so without any regret.”

He refrained from commenting on Joshi being his successor.

A government statement posted late in the night said that Joshi has been appointed Chairperson of Central Board of Film Certification “in an honorary capacity from August 11, 2017 for a period of three years or until further orders, whichever is earlier”.

National Award winning actress Vidya Balan has been appointed as part of the reconstituted CBFC.

Vidya said she was very happy to join the CBFC. “I hope to fulfill my responsibilities as a member to the best of my abilities. I look forward to this new and exciting phase where our cinema will be allowed to reflect the sensibilities, realities and complexities of the society we are living in today.”

A PIB statement announced reconstitution of the CBFC board with “immediate effect for a period of three years or until further orders, whichever is earlier.”

Vidya is joined by Gautami Tadimalla, Narendra Kohli, Naresh Chandra Lal, Neil Herbert Nongkynrih, Vivek Agnihotri, Waman Kendre, T.S. Nagabharana, Ramesh Patange, Vani Tripati Tikoo, Jeevitha Rajasekhar and Mihir Bhuta.

Agnihotri told IANS that Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani was looking at the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) with a fresh perspective. “With Prasoon Joshi heading it, it was tempting for me to come on board.”

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Joshi is known for his contribution to films like Black, Taare Zameen Par, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Rang De Basanti, Delhi-6 and Neerja and for designing successful ad campaigns. Honoured with Padma Shri, the National Award winner penned the theme song for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and other campaigns.

Nihalani, who has been a film producer and describes himself on Twitter as “true Indian”, took over as CBFC chairperson in 2015 from danseuse Leela Samson, a year after Modi became the Prime Minister. Hollywood movie Fifty Shades Of Grey became the first victim to Nihalani’s ways of censorship. It was not allowed to release in India over its erotic content.

Nihalani soon turned his attention to the Indian industry with films like NH10, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Aligarh, Udta Punjab, Haraamkhor, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Indu Sarkar and Babumoshai Bandookbaaz facing his wrath. Even James Bond film Spectre couldn’t escape his scissors. It was released only after its kissing scenes were cut short.

In Udta Punjab, a movie about the drug problem in Punjab, Nihalani and his examining committee insisted on as many as 89 cuts, triggering widespread condemnation.

Nihalani told IANS that he hoped he is “remembered as the CBFC chairperson who took a firm stand against vulgarity and pseudo-liberalism, no matter how unpopular it made me.”

Without referring to Joshi, he also hoped that his successor “doesn’t reverse the work that I started at the CBFC. I feel we have achieved a lot in the past three years”.

Joshi’s appointment as the new censor chief drew appreciation.

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who led a panel that has made recommendations for a revamp of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, told IANS: “Prasoon Joshi is an excellent choice. He is a very fine poet and also headed one of the best advertising agencies. So his understanding of the medium is very good.”

Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, who ran into trouble with Nihalani over his political drama “Indu Sarkar”, told IANS: “Prasoon is a very evolved person. He comes from the advertising background and will have a modern point of view. Choosing Prasoon is a welcome decision by the government.

“I would like to thank Smriti Iraniji and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathoreji for their decision. I am sure Prasoon will have a different outlook. He understands today’s movies well.”

Before cracking down on a variety of movies, Nihalani had produced a string of films including “Paap ki Duniya”, “Aag ka Gola”, “Shola aur Shabnam”, “Aankhen” and “Talaash: The Hunt Begins”.

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