MUMBAI: The Screenwriters Association (SWA) and FEFKA Writers Union, Kerala on Saturday expressed concern over the proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act, which they said would give "revisional power" to the central government.
On June 18, the Centre had sought public comments on the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 which proposes to penalise film piracy with a jail term and fine, introduce age-based certification, and empower the Central government to order recertification of an already certified film following receipt of complaints.
In a letter sent to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Friday, several industry personalities called the proposal a "blow to the film fraternity" as they believe it will potentially endanger freedom of expression and democratic dissent.
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal also said that the government has no role in film certification.
Besides the film personalities, six trade film associations issued a joint representation to the government regarding the proposal, objecting to the revisionary power sought to be provided to the Centre.
Writing a letter to the I&B Ministry, the SWA, which has over 35,000 members, and FEFKA Writers Union, Kerala gave their comments and suggestions on the proposal.
The two organisations said they welcome the amendment proposed in the Bill to curtail piracy, to introduce age-based sub-categories of U/A certification, provisions to prohibit and penalise unauthorized recording or transmission of a copy of a film during its exhibition.
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However, they expressed anxiousness over the "revisional power" granted to the Central Government in the bill by amending Section 6 of the Act.
"The amendment in the bill may result in multiple censorships that may unreasonably curtail our freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article-19 of the constitution," the letter, signed by SWA president Robin Bhatt and FEFKA Writers Union president S.N.Swami, read.
The two bodies also said the bill seems to miss the "golden opportunity" to reform the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) as recommended by Justice Mudgal Committee and Shyam Benegal Committee.
"We would like to bring your attention to our concern as a writing community. The bill in its current form, curtailing the autonomy of CBFC, may end up resulting in a further curtailment of our freedom of expression. Kindly note that creative freedom is the soul of our profession as screenwriters. We aspire for an environment where we can freely write and convey our thoughts within the framework of social and constitutional limitations," the letter read.
The SWA and FEFKA Writers Union said writers need freedom to show reality of society onscreen, which often puts them at odds with "special-interest groups", who try to curtail their power.
"Our pen needs the freedom to show the reality of society, including that which some special-interest groups may not want us to show, as it raises uncomfortable questions.
"But it is precisely then that we expect reassurance from the government that we shall not be subject to harassment outside of the constitutional framework," it added.
They also recommended the ministry to abide by the spirit of K M Shankarappa judgement which ruled that once a film has been certified after complying with the requirements under the Act, there should not be any further review by the government.
The SWA and FEFKA Writers Union expressed hope that the government will consider their suggestions and recommendations.
"We sincerely hope the Government will take cognisance of the suggestions and recommendations in the document submitted by us, and come up with an amendment that does not curtail creative freedom but promotes creative expression," the letter read.