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Row over film MSG snowballs; Censor board chief and member quit

Friday, Jan 16, 2015,18:45 IST By metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | The controversy over the clearance to the film ‘Messenger of God’ snowballed today with Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief and one member resigning. The resignation of CBFC member Ira Bhaskar came in support of its Chairperson Leela Samson as government rejected allegations of coercion and interference in its functioning.
A high alert has been sounded in Punjab and Haryana as protests were staged in Haryana and Delhi against the proposed release of the movie on Sunday. The controversial Dera Saccha Sauda sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, on whom the movie is based, claimed at a press conference in Gurgaon in Haryana where it was to be premiered today, that it does not target any religious section. I have clearly said that I am just human.
The acts portrayed in the movie are simply stunts, he said in an apparent rejection of criticism from Sikh groups that he was portraying himself as God and Sikh Guru. About the release on January 18, he said, we have not finalised anything. There are still meetings going on about the possibility of releasing within such a short time.
The clearance by the Appellate Film Certification Tribunal created turbulence in Delhi when Ira Bhaskar, a member of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), decided to resign in solidarity with Samson, who quit last night.
Samson had resigned after learning that the Tribunal had cleared the movie for release even though the CBFC had withheld it. I have decided to resign. My resignation has to do with Leelaji’s decision to step down. We were working together and as a group we had discussed resigning earlier. But we held on as she attempted to help the Ministry in running the Board, Bhaskar said.
But things were clearly not in order. There was no meeting in the past one year though it was mandatory for board members to meet every three months. The last meeting was in January 2014. The censor board CEO said there were no funds to hold the meetings so the board is clearly not required, she said.
Another CBFC member Nandini Sardesai came out in support of Samson and Bhaskar, saying this was the last straw. We went strictly by the Cinematograph Act. We saw the film in its entirety and found that it is not suitable for public viewing. That was the collective decision of all of us.
So as per procedure, it is upto the producer to go to Delhi and ask for a tribunal hearing which normally takes 15-30 days. This has happened within 24 hours. A tribunal has been set up and the film has been cleared. This is what, I think, is rankling Leela, she said.
Samson has termed as a mockery of CBFC the clearance to the film and said she had taken the decision to quit because of recent cases of interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the censor board.
Refuting the charges, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore said the government has always maintained a distance from the entire process of film certification and Samson should furnish evidence. He said Samson should show the SMS or letter which could show there was interference or coercion so that action could be taken.
Ram Rahim, who regaled an audience of his supporters who had come to watch the film with songs, said he did not feel the movie will cause law and order problem. I don’t know about the movie getting approved within 24 hours. One reason may be that the date of release was January 16. So it might have been fast-tracked…I have just done acting, he said. He said they were asked to remove two dialogues spoken by someone else in the film.
We have also been asked to include two warnings before the movie that it doesn’t target any religious sections and certain stunts have been performed in the film. Even Shahrukh Khan had stopped a train in a film. Hrithik Roshan had stopped a plane. I have not at all tried to portray myself as God but a messenger of God. Most of the incidents in the film are real life incidents which had happened in Dera Sacha Sauda, he said.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi targeted the government over the controversy related to the release and said there should be a comprehensive inquiry into it. It should not be taken lightly, he said, while saying the resignation by the censor board members was a serious matter.
Insisting that due process was being followed in all cases including in the case of ‘Messenger of God’, the Minister said, We have respected the Censor Board all along. Infact when the issue of the previous film came up, we respected the decision of the Censor Board. Government is hand’s away.
Rathore said very eminent persons constitute the appellate tribunal and the final call lies with the FCAT, the film appellate tribunal. There is a retired justice heading the tribunal. There is a Supreme Court advocate in the appellate tribunal.
There is a senior journalist in the tribunal, they take decision, whatsoever, which will be made public very soon, he said. The Minister also emphasised that the present Board and its members were placed by the previous government and current regime had not put in any additional member.