Spotlight: CBFC chief arrest

Even if he were to wear a different watch every day of a month, Central Board of Film Certification CEO Rakesh Kumar would still be left with 2 more watches of high-end luxury brands to choose from. That’s right, among property ownership papers and Rs 10 lakh in cash, a CBI preliminary investigation team recovered 33 luxury watches from Kumar’s residence. Kumar, the second in command of the Censor Board, was arrested by the CBI on August 18 for having allegedly demanded and accepted bribe from film producers through agents for expediting certification of a regional film.
Kanchan Prasad, official spokesperson of the CBI, says that the team received a complaint from an authorised agent informing them of the bribe demanded. “The agent alleged that Shripati Mishra, an authorised agent for censor certification, had demanded a bribe of Rs. 70,000 on behalf of Kumar for issuing certificate for the Chhattisgarhi film Mor Dauki Ke Bihav,” says Prasad. “The producers wanted to get the certification done urgently, as the film was scheduled to be released on August 15.” The anti-corruption team laid a trap and caught Mishra and Censor Board advisory panel member Sarvesh Jaiswal accepting the said amount red-handedly.
Industry insiders, however, say that the arrest did not come as much of a surprise because the demand and acceptance of bribes are no more considered shocking. On an average, an A-list producer has to shell out at least Rs 3 lakh to ensure that his film gets certified in time. These payments are, in fact, factored into the amount that is kept aside for applying for censorship, says filmmaker Hansal Mehta. “As a director I do not deal with these agents directly, the producers do, but I am aware of the system followed by them,” he says. Right from the initial stages of organising a screening for the board members, the agent, who acts as a middleman between the producers and Censor Board, tries to get together a “favourable group”. “There is a certain amount of money formally involved in applying for certification, organising a screening and for refreshments served for the officials attending it,” says Mehta. “But the agents tell us beforehand to keep aside a certain sum of money to pay off certain ‘problematic’ officers.”
During further investigations, allegations that Kumar and co has accepted a bribe of Rs 1 lakh to clear the controversial Punjabi film Kaum Ke Heere (which was banned as it was said to glorify the assassins of ex-PM Indira Gandhi), have surfaced. All films that have been certified after Kumar assumed office are also under the scanner and this list include films produced by Bollywood biggies like Disney-UTV, Yash Raj Films, Sohail Khan and Ajay Devgn. However, Prasad says that the prime focus now is on the bribery case at hand in relation to the regional film. “All other allegations that have cropped up during this period are still being investigated further. We are interrogating the agents involved and if they name anyone from the industry, they will be summoned to give a statement.”
Anupam Kher, who has served as the CBFC chairperson between 2003 and 2004, however, says that it is impossible for one person to influence the certification of a film. “The mode of operations of the board are not such that the CEO even attends every screening,” says Kher. “If at all there is a loophole in the system, it could be because there is no RO in the Mumbai division currently and through the touts and agents who act as middlemen between the filmmakers and the board.” The information on the CBFC official web site confirms that the post of RO in Mumbai is vacant. Kher says that it is foolish to even assume that big producers like Sohail Khan and Ajay Devgn would have obliged to such demands because they have been in the business long enough to understand the working of the government machinery.
Mehta, however, disagrees with Kher and cites the example of his own film Shahid. “I had submitted my film for recertification after the advised cuts for obtaining a U/A certificate for satellite viewing four months ago,” he says. “Till date, I have not heard anything from the board and to my knowledge the satellite rights of my film which released in October 2013 has not yet been sold.” He feels that this arrest is just like “treating the symptom and turning a blind eye towards the real disease.”
As per CBI reports, Kumar used to allegedly take Rs 1.5 lakh to get certifications cleared in 3-4 days, Rs 25,000 for certificates to be cleared in 7-8 days and Rs 15,000 for short films to be certified. If producers did not fall in line, he would threaten to chop off item songs in the film, or delay the certification, which under normal circumstances should be done in two to three weeks. This would affect those producers who have already announced the release dates of their films. Mehta says that nowadays filmmakers announce release dates even before the film is completed, thereby putting themselves in a sticky situation, and then are forced to abide by such demands.
Kumar, who is in CBI custody now will be produced before the court tomorrow. Meanwhile, the I & B ministry has suspended him from the post of CEO, following the arrest and Javadekar has promised to make “monitoring more stricter and process more transparent”. Many have questioned the appointment of those like Kumar, who are not related to films in any way, in such posts. Producer Guneet Monga feels that censorship in the country has become a joke. “As long as the internet is freely available, the uncut versions of all the supposedly banned films will be available all over the world,” she says. “This makes censorship and the following hue and cry an absolutely futile exercise.”
The arrest has now opened a can of worms hinting at a possible nexus between board members, film producers and agents. Although there is a computerised procedure in place to directly apply for certification, producers rope in these agents to expedite the process, say insiders. As of now, the worst hit are the the films like Mary Kom and Finding Fanny, which are not yet certified but lined up for early September releases.


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