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Modi gets more sway in India's new-look movie censor panel

MUMBAI: Indian politicians, writers and Bollywood film-makers linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been named to the censorship panel, battling allegations they were hand-picked by a pro-Hindu government with a partisan agenda.

Pahlaj Nihalani, a movie producer, was chosen as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification on Monday along with nine new members to replace incumbents who quit last week citing government interference.

Nihalani, the producer of Bollywood hits such as “Aankhen” in the 1990s, created a promotional campaign video for the May 2014 election that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi come to power.

The appointments invited ridicule on social media, with Twitter users questioning the merits of picking well-known sympathizers of Modi and his party.

Newcomers on the panel include politicians, actors and a writer who wrote a script for a film about Modi.

Film-maker Ashoke Pandit, one of the new members, said individual political leanings would not affect their work.

“I’m a big fan of Mr Modi and his vision … but when it comes to passing films, there is a constitution and you have to follow that,” Pandit said, adding last week’s mass resignations were a political move to discredit the ruling government.

Nihalani was not available for comment.

Last week’s censor panel resignations were prompted by the impending release of the controversial film “MSG: The Messenger of God”. The panel had kept the film out of cinemas on the grounds that it was a promotional film about the leader of a religious sect and would encourage superstition.

The decision was overturned by an appellate tribunal that gave the go-ahead to the film starring Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a spiritual leader with several million followers. Singh’s sect had supported BJP candidates in provincial elections last year.

On Tuesday, the opposition Congress accused the government of keeping the ministries for human resources and information and broadcasting under the sway of Modi’s pro-Hindu platform.

India’s 1.2 billion people are predominantly Hindus but there are also about 160 million Muslims and a small proportion of Christians.

“Good luck, Bollywood! Rest assured, there will be no sequel to PK,” Congress party spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter.

“PK” has grossed over 3 billion rupees ($48.54 million) since December to become Indian cinema’s biggest hit, but the film nettled several Hindu groups over its depiction of religious rituals and a corrupt spiritual guru.

“When ‘PK’ released, we faced so much criticism, but we stood our ground,” Leela Samson told Reuters last week after quitting as censor board chief.

“It’s ridiculous that as a country, we cannot even laugh at ourselves any more.” -Reuters

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