Filmmaker Suman Ghosh — who had to contend with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in 2017 before it freed the “cow” and four other words that were asked to be beeped out from his documentary on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen — has run into trouble again.
This time it’s with his feature film ‘Aadhaar’, a Hindi comic drama. Only it’s not a tussle between Ghosh and the certifying body, but a “super censor” in the form of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that issues Aadhaar card. The UIDAI has proposed “28 cuts” to the film — already cleared by CBFC in 2019 — stalling its release without the legal authority to do so. “The film was meant to release on February 5 this year. Just after the trailer launch in January, my producer got a call from UIDAI officials asking for a screening,” says Ghosh, who teaches economics at Miami and makes films in India.
“I wasn’t in India then. The film was screened for officials in Delhi in February after which they suggested 28 cuts for clearance.” The film, written and directed by Ghosh and co-produced by Jio Studios and Drishyam Films, is set in 2010 and tells the story of Pharsua (a fictional villager from Jharkhand) who falls into an abyss when the village numerologist makes ominous predictions based on his Aadhaar number. “It then follows Pharsua’s journey where the significance of having an Aadhaar card gets superseded by superstitious elements that often create obstacles in rolling out national initiatives,” explains Ghosh, stressing that the film, in fact, “bolsters the case of the Aadhaar initiative”.
The film’s release is currently hinged on objections that range from the use of a dialogue ‘Main Aadhaar Hoon’— a play on the title of an Amitabh Bachchan film ‘Main Azaad Hoon’ — “which officials claim is demeaning the Aadhaar programme”; a scene where a villager, trying to understand the privacy issue, asks: ‘Sarkar kya hamare ghusal khane mein ghus jayenge?’ (Will the government come into our bathrooms?); and a sequence where a man wants to get his cataract removed for Aadhaar’s biometrics. “They felt it was an improper representation of their biometric recognition system,” says Ghosh.
TOI reached out to a UIDAI official in Delhi who confirmed the department had “watched the film and asked for edits” but refused to comment further.