Written by Namrata Joshi
In the latest instance of extra-legal censorship, Aadhaar, a film cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in 2019, is facing 28 additional cuts at the insistence of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government body mandated to issue the unique Aadhaar numbers to Indian residents.
The report acquires significance in the light of the continuing attempts by the Union Government at turning Super Censor for Indian cinema. What’s ironical is that it’s their own ally who finds himself at the receiving end this time.
The film is a production of well-known BJP supporter Manish Mundra’s Drishyam Films. Its trailer had dropped in January and the film was supposed to be released on February 5 before the UIDAI asked for a special screening. It was pulled out a week or so before its release.
A tweet from Jio Studios’ (that is presenting the film) Twitter handle had stated: “A celebration of naya Bharat. Pleased to announce in association with @DrishyamFilms, the release of our film #Aadhaar, a social dramedy by award-winning director @ SumanGhosh1530, starring @vineetkumar_s @imsanjaimishra @ saurabhshukla_s. In cinemas on Feb 5th, 2021.”
So, what is even more befuddling is UIDAI’s uneasiness and misgivings about a film that actually bats for it.
Having seen the film at the Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival in 2019, one can say that far from being a critique, the film is an endorsement. It attempts at clearing the many doubts and misapprehensions surrounding Aadhaar amongst people. It addresses the suspicions of the poor, illiterate villagers in Jharkhand and questions the superstitions of its protagonist Pharsua (played by Vineet Singh). The trailer of the film itself exalts the national initiative with the line: “1.3 billion Indians. One historic project. A unique number for everyone.”
The Aadhaar case is in line with the restrictive measures being imposed on cinema. In February this year the government abolished the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body set up to hear appeals by filmmakers/producers aggrieved by the decision of the Censor Board. Later, in its attempt at amending the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had put out a draft of the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 in the public domain in June and sought comments from people before taking it to Parliament.
Among other proposals, the major issue of concern was the fact that under it the central government would have the power to revoke or recall certification of films which have already been cleared by the Censor Board.
Several film personalities, from across the country, had expressed their concern and sent a response to the ministry about the proposals in general and this specific amendment in particular. The Aadhaar case exemplifies these concerns and indicates what the road ahead could be like for the industry.
What is the way ahead for Aadhaar itself now? Ghosh says he has no idea about what to do and how to proceed. “Very heartbroken now. But I am hoping things will get better,” he says.