Several filmmakers of Indian cinema have fought tough battles with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Sarfarosh, which recently completed 23 years, was also one such film which almost got butchered at the Censor table. Director-producer John Matthew Matthan spoke about it in detail for the first time about his astonishing experience, in an exclusive interaction with Bollywood Hungama a few days ago.
23 Years of Sarfarosh EXCLUSIVE: “The Censor Board members wanted me to remove the words ‘Pakistan’ and ‘ISI’ from the film” – John Matthew Matthan
John Matthew Matthan said, “The Censors were going to ban the film. They were not letting us release it. I went through hell. Just a few months before my film’s release, the then Prime Minister of India, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went to Pakistan and a peace treaty was signed by the two countries. Hence, the entire Censor Board was against Sarfarosh as they felt that my film is going against the very concept of trying to be friendly with Pakistan. They were of the belief that those who felt that India can never be friendly with Pakistan are living in another world. I managed to release the film with great difficulty, that too after getting a lot of cuts.”
John Matthew Matthan continued, “The Censor Board members wanted me to remove the word ‘Pakistan’ and ‘ISI’ from the film. My financiers and distributor were behind me and compelled me to accept the cuts. They insisted that I replace ‘Pakistan’ with the words ‘padosi mulk’. I reasoned that ‘Pakistan’ has been mentioned more than 40 times in the film. Hence, this would butcher my film and it was not acceptable to me. I was ready to go even to the Supreme Court. I can’t tell you to what extent the Censor Board went to get my film chopped off and messed up. I stood my ground and I was lucky as I had produced the film myself. Aamir Khan fully supported me. I had informed him of my plans to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court. The Censors realized that I am not going to give up. The film was then released with the words ‘Pakistan’ and ‘ISI’ mentioned.”
When asked how many scenes were eventually cut by the CBFC, John Matthew Matthan replied, “They cut a lot of violence. I was okay with it though I needed to show at least some amount of violence. After all, the end result of any terrorist activity is violence. Anyway, I didn’t care about the amount of blood being spilt. Hence, I reduced it. In the climax, I had shown Naseeruddin Shah being fatally stabbed after which he falls down. I had shown his legs twitching and shivering. They made me reduce the shaking of his legs to a few seconds. My intention was to show a painful death as the man was a criminal. I don’t know what pleasure the Censor members got out of it. Anyway, I could not fight them forever and hence, I accepted it. By showing another 6 seconds of his leg twitching, I don’t see how anybody would have gone mad or lost his sanity!”
Interestingly, a few months after Sarfarosh was released, the relations between India and Pakistan went for a toss as the Kargil War erupted. The sentiment in the whole country must have changed.
John Matthew Matthan agreed and stated, “Sarfarosh was released on April 30, 1999, and in July 1999, the Kargil War began. Now, nobody knew that a war would break out between the two countries. Because of the amount I suffered, I guess God gave me a bonus; what I was talking about suddenly surfaced and became known nationwide. It certainly helped the film as people started relating to it. They realized that this is not something I cooked up; all this is a reality.”
Also Read: 23 Years Of Sarfarosh EXCLUSIVE: “The film took 3 years to be made as Aamir Khan had signed 3 films. His dates kept getting pushed. Because of one filmmaker, a couple of his films suffered” – John Matthew Matthan
More Pages: Sarfarosh Box Office Collection
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