India's censor board is too keen to cut quality films 

The problem was not in the kissing. Unlike Saudi Arabia, we are fine with kissing. The problem was that in the new James Bond film, Spectre, the kissing just goes on and on. Stop it, snip snip. 

Thoda limit mein kiss karo, yaar! And so, the censor board, under the vigorous stewardship of Pahlaj Nihalani, ordered that kissing scenes in the film be cut by 50 per cent. It could have asked for 10 or 80, but settled on a reasonable and clear 50. 

No banned shades of grey here. The international press had a good time coming up with headlines. They love a good comic story and India never fails to oblige. 

The international press had a good time coming up with headlines. They love a good comic story and India never fails to oblige

The international press had a good time coming up with headlines. They love a good comic story and India never fails to oblige

The Guardian went with ‘Bond and Gagged.’ 

The CBFC has been doing a lot of shushing of late, from muting the word ‘lesbian’ in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, to banning cult director Kamal Swarup’s documentary The Battle for Banaras. 

The film tells the story of the last Lok Sabha elections in Varanasi, where Arvind Kejriwal took on Narendra Modi. 

The CBFC also felt that the title of the film Angry Indian Goddesses was insulting to Hindu goddesses. The film, a sleeper success on the international film festival circuit, will be released in India but with cuts. 

Fanboy 

But Nihalani is not just an alert and effective policeman. He wears many hats and is a man of many talents. 

In the 1980s, he made a slew of B-grade Bollywood hits. A self-professed Modi fanboy, he gave us the memorable clip, Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi. 

That was during the last general elections. This Diwali, the maker of Har Har returned with a brand new music video, Mera Desh Hai Mahaan, a veritable fireworks display of photo-shopped semiotic chicanery. 

This is Nihalani’s vision of Narendra Modi as James Bond, master of the universe. The clip begins with a perfect dawn. Cut to shots of the snow-capped Himalayas. Modi, swaddled in saffron, pouring holy water on a Shiv ling. Schoolchildren in maroon uniform murmur, ‘Modi kaka, Modi kaka.’ The India flag flutters proudly in some wind, somewhere. 

The Indian army marches down Rajpath. Shots of a Hindu, Muslim and a Christian praying. The meateating Muslim is the most beefy amongst the lot, a stereotype of the muscular butcher. 

Shots of Modi meeting world leaders. Modi on a snowy rock, deep in meditation, wearing no cap. You worry about the freezing cold. 

You worry about the PM’s toes. Shots of a Gandhi look-a-like spinning a charkha. Modi walking past a Gandhi statue. The song in the background goes, “Jo sapna dekha Bapu Modi ne/ Use mil jul kar hame sach banana hai.” 

Yo, and then some rap to wrap up a good day’s work, “Pita aur beti ki selfie se/ Ma ka swabhiman badhana hai.” 

The video is peppered with images from around the world that have nothing to do with us: wind turbines in California, the Dubai Expressway, the Tomcat, the International Space Station, and, for some reason, the Tour De France. Even Umberto Eco would have struggled with that last one. 

The video clearly wants to posit Modi as a clean break from the past, read Congress past: ‘Azaadi phir se aayi hai’. 

What struck me most was that the more it tries to shake it off, the more it ends up clinging to it. The same claptrap and tokenism that the Congress used in its patriotic videos reappear here. 

Religious unity 

Hindu, Muslim and Christian unity. Images of Humayun’s Tomb and Taj Mahal interspersed with the ghats of Varanasi. 

The clichéd colourful images of Indian diversity: kathakali, bhangra and rangoli. The dams lush with sheets of rapid-flow water. 

The same North Korean/socialist India obsession with army parades and space programmes. The only difference is that where the Congress might have used an image of an Indian missile being launched, or the Vajpayeeera BJP images of the Pokhran nuclear tests, Nihalani borrows straight from NASA. 

Why waste time reinventing the wheel? There is no mention of Atalji or the achievements of previous BJP governments. Instead, there’s plenty of Gandhi and his charkha in the clip. 

Modi as Gandhi: ‘Bapu Gandhi.’ Even the children sing ‘Modi kaka’, just like they used to say, ‘Chacha Nehru’. 

Gandhi, Nehru, Indira. Gandhi, Nehru, Modi. Spot the difference. 

Response 

How does one respond to something like this? Of course, it is cheesy, even superbly so. 

It elevates propaganda cheese to an art form. At the very least, it’s a meaningful addition to the venerable genre. But I also found it touching in its honesty. 

There’s something innocent about honesty. This is Nihalani’s idea of India and Modi — a fantasy version of India at home in the world. This is his vision. 

Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) share an intimate moment in Spectre 

Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) and James Bond (Daniel Craig) share an intimate moment in Spectre 

He believes in it, heart and soul. It’s this honesty that makes his message authentic, as desi-authentic as the names of some of his hit films — Mitti Aur Sona, Aag Ka Gola, Shola Aur Shabnam. It’s a perversely innocent authenticity. 

Writing in The Hindu, Suresh Menon says, “If a man is known by the tributes his lackeys pay him, then the Prime Minister emerges as a figure of fun, thanks to Nihalani’s misplaced sense of propriety.” 

The thing about lackeys is that they always listen to the boss, their hero. The NHAI, under Kamal Nath, wanted to put up hoardings of Manmohan Singh across 21 states. Singh shot the proposal down.

It took one phone call to do so. But then, that’s a different way of doing things. 

The writer is the author of ‘The Butterfly Generation' 

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