New Delhi, June 8: Chief censor Pahlaj Nihalani today accused Udta Punjab co-producer Anurag Kashyap of being paid by the Aam Aadmi Party "to portray Punjab and its people in a bad light", as the filmmakers appealed against the cuts ordered and Bollywood rallied behind the movie.
The censor board has sought over 80 cuts to the film, whose portrayal of the state's drug problem is said to have angered Punjab's ruling Akali Dal, a BJP ally. The filmmakers today challenged the board's order at the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, which is yet to fix a hearing.
Nihalani's allegation came on a day Amitabh Bachchan entered the debate in support of artistic creativity - "all I can say is that don't kill creativity" - and Aamir Khan warned against filmmakers' voice being "throttled".
"I have heard that Kashyap has taken a huge amount of money from the AAP to show Punjab neck-deep in drug trafficking. That is why he is so adamant not to make the changes we are recommending," Nihalani told The Telegraph .
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal had yesterday supported the film against the censors, only to draw a rebuff from Kashyap who asked them not to "colour my fight with any political affiliation".
"If he (Kashyap) has no relations with any political party and just wants to show a film to the people, why should he have a problem with our recommendations?" Nihalani said. "If he has problems with our suggestions, he is free to go to higher authorities, but why make such a hue and cry?"
Kashyap demanded an apology from Nihalani. "Why does he not come up with proof if he is so certain?" he told a news conference, flanked by fellow filmmakers Imtiaz Ali, Sudhir Mishra, Zoya Akhtar and Mahesh Bhatt.
"The real issue is: he is behaving like a dictator who thinks that the film fraternity is his subject and he can come up with any ridiculous decisions and charges. It is the matter of a filmmaker's right but he is trying to turn it into a political battle."
"We can't turn into a Saudi Arabia where there is opulence but no free thought in society," Bhatt said, demanding Nihalani's removal as chief censor.
Bachchan, in Calcutta to promote his thriller TE3N, said he was "not quite aware of what the issue really is" but added: "All I can say is that don't kill creativity. When you kill creativity, you kill our souls."
He went on: "All of us in the film industry, all of us have faced this issue... at some point. There has to be a concerted and joint effort by the industry to get over this. I hope that we can devise a system where there is certification rather than censorship."
Kejriwal, whose party hopes to do well in the upcoming Punjab election, waded into the debate again despite yesterday's snub from Kashyap.
"Pahlaj Nihalani's statement makes it amply clear that he has stopped the film on BJP's instructions," the Delhi chief minister tweeted.
His party spokesperson, Ashish Khetan, directly linked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to the censors' move.
"It (Nihalani's allegation) means that Nihalani has been told by the Prime Minister and Badal that the drug problem will become a big issue and the Akalis and the Badals will be in danger," he said.
Asked whether his party or any of its members had indeed given any money to the film's makers, Khetan ducked the question.
Officials in the information and broadcasting ministry, under which the censor board functions, distanced themselves from the controversy saying the film certification process was "independent".
Kashyap had told TV channels yesterday that he had earlier approached the ministry but the "film fraternity seems to be his (Jaitley's) last priority".
He had added that after he received a message from Jaitley's junior, Rajyavardhan Rathore, saying a joint secretary was looking into the matter, Nihalani "called up my partner and asked why we had approached the ministry".
A senior official in Jaitley's office said the minister had decided not to say anything on the subject as it was a matter between the censor board and the filmmakers.
"The process is quite clear that the filmmakers can approach the tribunal if they are not satisfied with the board's decisions," he said.
"Court guidelines too make it clear that in such matters, it is not for the I&B ministry to take matters in its own hands."
He said the ministry was trying to streamline the film certification process and that the first part of the recommendations of the Shyam Benegal committee was being "examined at the highest level".
The committee, formed this year after a series of controversial decisions by Nihalani's board, has suggested the board's role be restricted to categorising films, and not recommending changes or cuts, except in matters involving national security.
The filmmakers held a special screening of Udta Punjab for Benegal in Mumbai today. Benegal praised the film but said he had watched it in his individual capacity and not at the ministry's behest.