By Utpal Borpujari
From films like Gulzar’s Aandhi and Amrit Nahata’s Kissa Kursi Ka to books like Catherine Frank’s Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, an otherwise liberal-faced Congress’ ire has always fallen on anything that is construed to be critical of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
If for the Sangh Parivar any alleged attack on Hinduvta is reason enough for moral policing, with examples like those of M F Hussain’s paintings of nude goddesses and Deepa Mehta’s films Fire and Water highlighting it, for the Congress, it is the party’s first family that becomes the most sensitive factor.
The latest to barely escape an overzealous Congress’ ire is Rajneeti, Prakash Jha’s reworking of the Mahabharata in the context of present-day politics, for allegedly modelling Katrina Kaif’s character on party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Only a couple of years ago, the party ensured, through a legal notice sent by AICC spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, that Jagmohan Mundhra drop his planned biopic on Sonia Gandhi, based on an unauthorized biography of hers by a journalist.
In fact, the party has quite a history when it comes to blocking material that it considers has portrayed the Nehru-Gandhi family in critical light.
The most brazen among them was the burning down of the print of Kissa Kursi Ka, directed by Amrit Nahata and starring Shabana Azmi, Raj Kiran, Manohar Singh and Surekha Sikri, allegedly by goons sent by Sanjay Gandhi during Emergency.
Another film that suffered at Congress’ hand was Gulzar’s Aandhi. In July, 1975, soon after imposition of Emergency by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it was banned as the party thought the lead character played by Suchitra Sen resembled Gandhi.
The film was cleared after quite a few months only after its makers agreed to delete some scenes and make some changes in the narrative.
Jha has vehemently denied that Kaif’s character has any similarity with Gandhi – “except that both are women” – but Congress got three pro-party members of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) – Tom Vadakkan, Pankaj Sharma and Sanjeev Bhargava – to specially vet the film, flying them to Mumbai to view it.
AICC secretary Vadakkan, party mouthpiece Sandesh’s editorial department’s Sharma and cultural activist Bhargava reportedly took a dim view of certain scenes and dialogues in the film and suggested an ‘A’ (for adult viewing) certification.
But Jha finally got an ‘U/A’ (unrestricted viewing, including by children if accompanied by adults) certification from the Board’s appellate tribunal after deleting a few scenes, including portions of a lovemaking scene between Arjun Rampal and Kaif, beeping out some words and replacing the word “bidhwa” (widow) with reference to Kaif’s character with “bitiya” (daughter).
Two other important deletions have to do with a reported reference to tampering of the electronic voting machine and a mention that women have to sleep their way through to rise in politics.
All this apparently has settled the problems with the film, also starring Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Manoj Bajpai, which will see a worldwide release on June 4.
But the overt alertness by Congress about the film has once again highlighted the party’s extra-sensitivity towards matters relating to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
It goes without saying that the only dissenting member in the appellate tribunal decision, one Anil Thomas whose minority view was to grant the film an “A” certification for its violence and “gory sex scenes”, is reportedly close to Congress.