If you aim to be authentic, you have to borrow from your life, your sensibilities, and your experiences.” Prasoon Joshi, adman, poet, script writer, wordsmith at large and now in the high profile post of censor board chief had a reputation for living those words as he climbed quickly up the stairway of fame.In Mumbai, he would walk to the tea stall near his home for his morning wake-me-up. That would be is own way of learning from the smells and sounds of life. Evidently, he imbibed freely from the cup of life. The carefully dishevelled look bears testimony to that. But, being censor board chief in the world’s most prolific movie industry was never meant to be a cushy assignment because you do not know where the next missile would come from – or in Pahlaj Nihalani’s case, when the censor boss became an unguided missile himself.
One would like to be a fly on the wall in Joshi’s room now, now that he has reduced ‘Padmavati’ to ‘Padmavat’, to find out whether he finds the challenge of his present job more satisfying than penning the immensely sensitive lyrics of ‘Taare Zameen Par’. Imagine getting up in the morning to find that Mahendra Singh Mewar of the former royal family of Mewar, has written to information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, and accused him of giving short shrift to the rule book while okaying ‘Padmavat’.
The letter questions CBFC’s intentions and points out, “One set of panelists was invited and then the film was clandestinely shown to another set.” It further states, “The impression being given is that the panelists who have seen the film are in agreement with the movie being released with the above stated modifications. It is, however, reliably learnt that none of the panelists is in agreement with the film, two of them going on record and stating the same.”
Mahendra Singh Mewar's son Vishvaraj Singh had written a stinging letter to Joshi, saying, “Cosmetic changes like the proposed change in name will not change the fact that that the movie refers to real places, my ancestors and other persons in history with their names continuing to remain the same.”
The anger of the former Mewar royals and the threats from Rajasthan’s Karni Sena to burn down movie halls that dare to show the film – for the record they have asked for Joshi’s sacking – are evidently a problem. But, Joshi is an industry insider whose words carry weight. It would be safe to say that Joshi would not be left to the wolves for another reason. He had been at the head of Narendra Modi’s ‘Achhe Din’ campaign leading up to the massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and now with the Prime Minister’s ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign. Perhaps that is why the Karni Sena has accused both the Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for their reported ‘silence’ over the CBFC’s green light to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial film.
If the Mewar family believes he has handled the ‘Padmavati’ issue with kid gloves, which according to them could lead to disaffection between Rajputs and Muslims, they might not be wide of the mark. In his earlier avatar as a film industry insider, he had said there was no need for a censor board in India. It is possible that being in the hot seat has not drastically altered his position.
In essence he would be at stage two on the ‘Padmavati’ issue, which would mean getting the backroom act together for the film’s early release. The proximity to Modi’s team would indicate that he has the qualities that the Prime Minister prefers – be effective and keep the temperatures down. Whenever things have appeared to go out of control, he has stepped up to the plate as censor chief to quell rumours. One was the story of 300 cuts to ‘Padmavati’, which he immediately scuttled. An offshoot of the approach, added to the fact that he is a heavyweight, is that the noise levels of the Karni Sena are getting lower.
Joshi has succeeded in one diplomatic offensive as a film industry insider. In getting the film makers to change the name to ‘Padmavat’ he has given it credibility, because it uses the name used by Malik Mohammad Jayasi, and, simultaneously tried to take attention away from the historical ‘Padmavati’. Of course, politics will take over henceforth. If the film gets to see the light of day, some credit should go to the censor chief for defusing the situation.