The Indian government dismissed the controversial chief of its movie censorship panel on Friday, following months of criticism from Bollywood film-makers and fellow panelists angered by attempts to sanitise art and popular culture.
Pahlaj Nihalani was removed as the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) along with several of his colleagues on an 18-member panel.
Bollywood lyricist and adman Prasoon Joshi has been named Nihalani’s replacement for three years, according to a government statement on Friday. Actress Vidya Balan was appointed as part of a newly reconstituted 12-member panel, with only five from Nihalani’s current team making the cut.
Nihalani, a movie producer who made racy and sometimes raunchy films in the 90’s was a controversial choice when he was appointed in 2015 and clashed with several industry titans during his stormy tenure.
“I am happy with this decision … this had to happen,” film-maker Ashok Pandit, a member of the outgoing panel, told Reuters over the phone.
“There was so much outcry from the film industry and Smriti Irani (India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister) is from the industry and she took the right call,” Pandit said.
In 2016, Nihalani took on the makers of “Udta Punjab” after the board recommended more than 80 cuts, forcing the film’s producers to go to the Bombay High Court, which then cleared it for screening with minimal cuts.
Earlier this year, Nihalani did not clear the trailer of Shah Rukh Khan’s “Jab Harry Met Sejal” because of the word “intercourse”. Alankrita Shrivastava’s “Lipstick Under My Burkha” was also not certified initially because it dealt with women’s sexuality.
Film-maker Shyam Benegal, who headed a committee set up by the government to look into censor board reforms, said Joshi was an “excellent choice”.
“He is a lyricist and adman and understands the language and the industry,” Benegal told Reuters over the phone. “He has run a top agency for many years.”
Joshi had helmed the ad campaign that propelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi into power in 2014. He is the CEO of McCann Worldgroup India, with additional responsibility as McCann Asia-Pacific chairman, according to the firm’s website.
Editing by Tony Tharakan