Bring down the curtain on censorship

We have to do away with the notion that the CBFC—which is a film certification body—is a film censoring authority

Published: 29th August 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th August 2017 12:59 PM   |  A+A-

Now that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has a new Chairman, one hopes that the controversies that have dogged the board are now behind us and we can look forward to a more progressive approach by the CBFC to the task of film certification. The first thing that needs to be done is to do away with the notion that the CBFC, which is a film certification body, is a film censoring authority.

Pahlaj Nihalani, the former chairman drew a lot of flak for the archaic and at times patriarchal approach of the CBFC to film certification. Many films ran into trouble with the board during Nihalani’s tenure, but what was even more problematic was his claim that he was defending “Indian culture”. Neither he nor any other official on the board could explain what “Indian Culture” meant  and whether it was the job of the CBFC to protect it. In recent times, several films had problems with the board including Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar and Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava. He also wanted the word “intercourse” removed from the trailer of a recent Shahrukh Khan film. All this has made the CBFC a laughing stock and reduced the process of certification to a mockery.
The new Chairman of the CBFC, Prasoon Joshi will hopefully steer the board towards a modern and progressive approach to film certification and give due weightage to the report of the committee of experts which was headed by Shyam Benegal, which examined the prevailing practices and drew up broad guidelines and procedure for certification of films by the CBFC.

The CBFC is a content certifying statutory body for the purpose of sanctioning films for public exhibition. It is set up under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Its job is to regulate public exhibition of films. A key provision that CBFC has to keep in mind is Section 5B (I) of the Cinematograph Act, which says that a film shall not be certified if any part of it is against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations in foreign states, public order, decency or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite commission of any offence. These clauses also find a place in the guidelines issued in 1991, which also authorise CBFC to suggest cuts in a film.

Section 5B (I) of the Act and these guidelines have been the basis for film certification over the last quarter of a century. They have also been responsible for the mutation of a film certification board into a film censor board and have been the source of much controversy, because censorship is anathema to creativity.

Much of the controversy surrounding the work of this institution relates to its role as a Censor Board. This may be obviated if the chief recommendations of the Benegal Committee are accepted. The committee has unanimously opined that the current guidelines which empower the CBFC to effect cuts in films should be re-drafted keeping in mind the principle that the rights owner has complete rights over his film and any alteration or change can only be made by the rights owner. The committee has categorically said that “there should be no system of imposing excisions (as is practiced at present) and the CBFC must transition into solely becoming a film certification body, as indeed the name of the institution suggests”. More importantly, it has said that the CBFC should not act as a “moral compass” by deciding what constitutes glorification or promotion of an issue or otherwise.

The scope of the CBFC should be only to decide who and what category of audiences can watch a film. Should a film violate Section 5B (I) of the Act or exceed the limitations defined in the highest category of certification recommended by this committee, the CBFC would be within its rights to reject certification to a film. However, CBFC should not be authorised to dictate excisions, modifications and amendments. The committee has said that the CBFC’s categorisation should be a sort of a statutory warning for audiences for what to expect if they were to watch a particular film. “Once the CBFC has issued this statutory warning, film viewing is a consensual act, and up to the viewers of that category”. The committee has suggested that the categorisation of films need to be changed too with the addition of a A-C (Adult with Caution) category for films which may contain explicit material involving nudity, violence etc.

The committee feels that this will prevent film directors from including vulgar and suggestive song and dance situations to cater to a certain category of audience.Before the Benegal Committee examined this issue, a committee headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal examined the functioning of the CBFC. This committee found some members of the advisory panels saw themselves as a Censor Board with the power to cut and chop scenes. They also imposed their own moral, political or religious code and objected to words like “boyfriend” or “kiss” in the dialogue.

The committee said “cinema is a form of art and by its inherent character, capable of varied forms of representation and consequently, myriad forms of interpretation”. It said the courts have grappled for years to give precise meanings to terms such a morality, obscenity and excessive violence. “These are concepts which are incapable of surgically precise definitions and interpretation of such terms will vary from person to person”.Since we have such weighty arguments against insensitive and thoughtless censorship of films, one hopes the CBFC will move with the times and take necessary steps to limit itself to film certification.

Chairman, Prasar Bharati

India Matters


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