MUMBAI — On the whole, India’s censor board was fine with the gritty film “Udta Punjab,” or “Flying Punjab,” about the wave of heroin addiction washing over that north Indian state.
There were just a few things to address — such as removing every reference to Punjab, including the word in the movie’s title and a signpost shown in an opening sequence, so that viewers left the theater believing they had seen a movie set in a fictitious land. This, even though Punjab’s drug problem is no secret, having been widely reported in recent years.
And eliminating references to the cities of Jalandhar, Chandigarh and Amritsar, as well as the word “election,” close-ups of drug injections and the name of a dog in the film called “Jacky Chain.”
In all, the head of the censor board, Pahlaj Nihalani, demanded 94 cuts to the film before it could be released to theaters as scheduled on June 17, the film’s producer, Anurag Kashyap, said on Twitter.
Kashyap has challenged the board’s order before the Bombay High Court, while also seeking financial relief for the delay in certification, which seems very likely to postpone the film’s opening until at least July. The court, after a hearing Thursday, adjourned the case until Friday.
Movies regularly come under the Indian censor board’s knife, sometimes for baffling reasons. Last year, the agency cut in half the length of a kiss in the latest James Bond film, “Spectre.” Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” went unreleased when Allen refused to comply with the board’s demand that a smoking disclaimer appear on screen every time someone lit a cigarette.
In the case of “Flying Punjab,” the board’s critics say politics seemed to play a role.
Punjab is governed by the regional political party Akali Dal, which has long been accused by its opponents of turning a blind eye to the state’s pervasive drug mafia and, presumably, is not eager to have viewers — and voters — reminded of the issue of heroin use in the state. Akali Dal is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed Nihalani.
On the other side, Nihalani recently accused Kashyap of taking funds from the Aam Aadmi Party, which hopes to unseat Akali Dal in coming elections. Kashyap has denied the accusation.
Incensed by this allegation, a group of prominent writers and directors has joined the cast and crew of “Flying Punjab” in calling for Nihalani to be fired. Among those who spoke at a news conference this week were Zoya Akhtar, the director and screenwriter, and Aamir Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars.
“The board is meant to provide a certificate, not censor or cut our films,” Kashyap said at the briefing. “Let the audience decide what they want to reject. How can one person become the moral guardian?”