Know Your Censor Board Chief

As a Bollywood fan, the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (aka Censor Board) is the administrative post you are most affected by. After all, he is the guy who is going to decide if you would get to watch MSG with Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Singh Insan's topless scene intact or we'd have to make do with his Love Charger instead.
Therefore, today's appointment of the CBFC Chief needs a bit of perspective. More so, since people have already dismissed Pahlaj Nihalani as someone who made some Modi promotional video and are ignoring the impressive line-up of films he produced in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pahlaj Nihalani's greatest contribution is not to Bollywood but to Bangladeshi cinema. Because. He. Is. The. Man. Who. Launched. Suyash Pandey.
Nihalani met (or spotted) Chunky Pandey in the loo of a five-star hotel and immediately signed him for a debut that would electrify Bollywood in the 1990s, energise the Bangladeshi film industry a decade later and provide fodder for jokes at awards functions two decades later.

Apart from that, Pahlaj Nihalani bankrolled many of the massive hit films that would establish Govinda-David Dhawan as the greatest combination to happen to Hindi cinema after Amitabh-Manmohan Desai. [I didn't say that. Anupama Chopra wrote about it in an India Today profile of the actor.]

Pahlaj Nihalani's first film as a producer was Hathkadi (not to be mistaken with the 1990s GTH/LML version starring Govinda and Shilpa Shetty). The film is famous for the Asha Bhosle classic - Disco Station - composed by the legendary Bappi Lahiri. Point to be noted is that the film was released in 1982 with Shatrughan Sinha and Rakesh Roshan playing sons to Sanjeev Kumar, giving it a slight 70s vibe with an 80s disco touch.

His next notable was Ilzaam, featuring the song that would make Govinda the butt of jokes in the snooty English-language film press. I am a Street Dancer (again by Bappi Lahiri) was performed by Govinda with gusto on - well - the streets of Bombay while his cronies slipped into people's houses and stole stuff. This whole crime was being investigated by his brother, a police officer (Shatrughan Sinha) as his girlfriend Neelam confused him for someone else.

Then came Aag Hi Aag, which was the aforementioned Suyash's debut. In an interview to Stardust, Chunky said, "After Aag Hi Aag, it was bhaag hi bhaag for me" - indicating the ginormous number of films he signed after this first hit (!). Chunky was the son of Dharmendra, who was the enemy of Danny, who was the enemy of Shatrughan Sinha - in the typically complicated plot of the Bollywood of yore that needed 2:55 hours to uljhao and 0:05 hours to suljhao.

Shola Aur Shabnam was probably the first of the Govinda-David Dhawan partnership that would rule for the next several years. Govinda as army cadet Karan. Gulshan Grover as Kali. Mohnish Behl as his brother Bali. Anupam Kher as Col. Lathi. And Bindu as a girl's college hostel warden who had the hots for Anupam Kher. Any 90s connoisseur can imagine what an explosion the above chemicals can concoct and the film did not disappoint at all.
Add to that quite a few hit songs including the epic Aaaooooooaaaaa o o o o (x 3).

Immediately after SAS came Aankhen, a film that should have been in the Guinness Book for having a world record four double roles (two Kadar Khans, two Govindas, two Raj Babbars and one pair of Chunky-Monkey). It didn't get into the record books because Nihalani was too busy counting the money this film made. It was the biggest grosser of 1993 and I remember watching the film on cable one night, when I was not able to go for a leak because the events just did not let up!
A prankster duo. Their strict father. A gang of terrorists out to switch a CM with a lookalike. A stock-market scamster who had to be released from jail. Twin brothers of several people. And songs that were bloody catchy.
There was the Anthem of Eve-Teasing: O laal dupatte wali, tera naam toh bataa
There was Semi-Romantic Semi-Erotic Ditty: Ek tamanna jeevan ki (Feat. Govinda's Moobs)
There was the PETA Geet: Bade kaam ka bandar
There was the Ghar Khaali Gaana: Angana mein baba, duwaare pe maa - which probably started the debate around Double Meaning Songs much before Raja Babu, Dalaal and Dulara came into the picture.

The final name on this list - though not the final title on Nihalani's CV - is Andaz.
Anil Kapoor appeared as a bespectacled schoolteacher in this film, just in case everyone thought our favourite neighbourhood tapori was not intellectual enough to be associated with academia. But then, studies were strictly avoided as a love triangle between the teacher, his wife (Juhi Chawla) and a student (Karisma Kapoor—in the mandatory minis of a girl student) developed. In any case, Anil Kapoor’s erudition would have been terribly misplaced in a school—hilariously named Nalanda—which counted Shakti Kapoor among its students.

As is evident, Pahlaj Nihalani was (is) a visionary producer who has always been aware of the thin line between subtle humour and slapstick, between eroticism and porn, between body parts that can be exposed and body parts that can't. He has chosen never to walk that line but that does not make him any less qualified to be the person who decides which scenes stay in the movies we watch and which scenes don't.
After all, he knew that consent from the woman is essential for any romantic liaison (Khet gaye baba, bazaar gayi maa / Akeli hoon ghar mein, tu aaja balmaa said the woman in a song he produced). He also depicted empowered women (When asked her name, his heroine snapped back Pehli mulaqat mein ladki nahin khulti / Har ajnabi pe dil ki yeh khidki nahin khulti). And these modern women were also aware of old traditions of hospitality (Garam garam halwa aur puri khilaibe / Naram naram haathon se khaaja balma).
Overall, a man who blends the traditional and modern. Bring him on, I say. 


Nilendu said…
I came out of AIIMS entrance exam about 45 minutes ahead of time (not that I would score much higher if I'd stayed put) to catch a re-run of Aankhen that afternoon in Cable. What a film it was! Pehlaj Nihalani probably also made a lot of movies with Mithun, Sonam, Sumit Saigal and Manek Irani (remember him? :-) )
Rohina Katoch said…
BWAHAHAHAH! *wipes tears of mirth* I'm going to link this up on my blog! Genius!
Superb share I must say. Too good. Thank u for the moments and the write up.........
Captain Nemo said…
I have read both your Bollywood Books and they are great!

in discussion amongst lawyers now!