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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
    CURRENT ISSUE FEBRUARY 13, 2006
 
    CONTROVERSY: ANIMAL ABUSE
 
Catfight Over Animal Rights

Maneka Gandhi thinks Bollywood doesn't care for animals. Sharmila Tagore says she is overreacting. The result is a war of words that transcends professional limits and enters personal territory.
 
  PICTURE SPEAK
  "How can I be autocratic? I am not in the government, Sharmila Tagore is."
MANEKA GANDHI, MP & MEMBER, ANIMAL WELFARE BOARD OF INDIA
Two feisty women, both public figures and in positions of authority, lock horns. The result: an issue that snowballs before you can say Noah's Ark. Sharmila Tagore, chairperson, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and Maneka Gandhi, mp and a member of Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), were the two leading ladies in a public spat last week over the use of animals in films. Barbs flew thick and fast with Maneka accusing Sharmila of favouring films starring members of her family, and Sharmila countering that Maneka was being autocratic.

It all started early this year when the no-objection certificate (NOC) issued by the AWBI-the only authority with a right to issue NOCs-to Rang De Basanti was revoked. Maneka had apparently pointed out that the filmmakers sought the NOC long after the shoot had been completed. Rules dictate that if a producer wants to use animals in a feature or ad film, he has to seek permission from the AWBI at least a month before shooting begins. The AWBI inspects to ensure the animals are being looked after properly and then issues an NOC. Without this NOC, the CBFC cannot grant the film clearance.

The revoking of Rang De Basanti's noc saw its producers rushing to Delhi to plead their case with Maneka. Says Maneka, "The Rang De... promos depicted a horse. The AWBI had written to the Censor Board urging them not to repeat the mistake made in Taj Mahal. The I&B Ministry asked them to get AWBI approval. Producer Rakeysh Mehra called me requesting that I help him, since the release date was close. I contacted members of the AWBI about it. After another viewing, it was found the violations were not serious, and the board decided to make an exception."

  PICTURE SPEAK
  "Maneka Gandhi has not said anything to me directly. If she had written to me or to a minister, I would have chosen to respond."
SHARMILA TAGORE, CHAIRPERSON , CENSOR BOARD

Sharmila was apparently miffed with Maneka because the film stars her daughter Soha Ali Khan, and was reported to have said that she was sure even Eklavya, which has her son Saif Ali Khan among the star cast and a scene with pigeons, will face hurdles. After a daily newspaper ran the story, Sharmila told India Today she was unaware that it had appeared and denied making any remarks against Maneka. "Yes, I may have mentioned Eklavya, but I meant to say that without this particular NOC, most producers would face a problem like Rang De... did, or Kaal did, or Taj Mahal did. We have even issued a circular to most producers telling them this," she says.

Taj Mahal's promos, for instance, showed around 2,000 horses, camels and elephants, for which the producer claimed he had sought permission from the chief wildlife warden of Ladakh. But when AWBI questioned him about bypassing procedures, he failed to come up with a satisfactory reply. Later, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the producer and the I&B Ministry. Both were subsequently served notices.

Kaal also ran into trouble with sequences showing tigers, which Maneka said were shot in Jim Corbett National Park-shooting with tigers in a national park is an offence. However, the film's director Soham said despite acquiring the necessary permissions to shoot in Corbett, the scenes were shot in Bangkok. With CBFC's backing, the film got clearance, but it couldn't get around a PIL for which it has been served a notice by the Supreme Court.

  PICTURE SPEAK
UNDER ATTACK: (Clockwise) Stills from Rang De... and Kaal; and the Pataudi family

Maneka, however, isn't sure that Sharmila is serious. She told India Today: "In 2005, PETA had moved the Bombay High Court against the use of animals in films. The court ruled that animals couldn't be used in films without AWBI approval. After the judgement, the CBFC should be hauled up for contempt if the violations continue." Alleging indifference on the part of Sharmila, she says: "The current chairperson of CBFC says she doesn't understand these rules. The AWBI sought appointments with her five to six times, but she cancelled them all." Maneka also says that "it is the duty of the CBFC to implement this law". In response to Sharmila's statement that her job is only to issue certificates, Maneka has called for the CBFC to play a more active role. "Over the past two years, activists have organised numerous awareness workshops specifically for Hindi filmmakers. It's the duty of the Censor Board to inform the producers. There are a number of filmmakers, especially from regional cinema, who have abided by the law," says Maneka.

Debunking the praise for regional filmmakers, Sharmila contends the law itself appears tilted in their favour. "The Bhojpuri film Dharti Putra received an NOC in four days. While Hindi films are being targeted, the same rules apparently do not apply to regional cinema," says Sharmila.

According to Maneka, the AWBI has formed a four-member panel to examine scripts. It includes veterinarian V.N. Appaji Rao, Goan animal welfare activist Norma Alvares, Tamil Nadu's chief wildlife warden C.K. Sreedharan and Blue Cross of India's Chinni Krishna.

Anuradha Sawhney, chief functionary, PETA, says she sent out 5,000 letters in 2003 to film producers, advertising and pr agencies and event management firms, informing them of the need for AWBI's permission.

But the duel has taken on personal hues with Maneka reportedly observing that Sharmila's entire family is out on bail, referring to son Saif's alleged involvement in the illegal killing of Black Bucks in Jodhpur and husband Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi's arrest under charges of killing animals in Jhajjar. Sharmila refuses to react. "Maneka Gandhi has not interacted with me directly," she says, keeping a straight face. Considering that both charges involve poaching, perhaps it's the best Sharmila can do.

 

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Index

INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
FEBRUARY 13, 2006
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

Hype & Hardsell

OTHER STORIES
 

Truly India everywhere

Jumbo Circus

Ground Clearance

Teaching Trouble

Poll Candy Pact

Deccan Dynasty

All Style But No Substance

Walking The Thin Line

Statecraft Sortie

UFO Was It There?

Catfight Over Animal Rights

Shoot-Out Shocker

Welcoming Wild

Till Sex Does Them Part

Fast And Funky

Laugh Interrupted

A City in Pink

Double Whammy

 

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