It was a rude shock and a sense of disbelief for me to learn that the Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification “agrees that the Central Government’s regulation on depiction of smoking scenes and use of performing animals curtailed the artistic freedom of film-makers.”
By making such a statement, two things are clear:
(1) The CBFC is totally oblivious to the legal and constitutional niceties and nuances of freedom of speech and expression.
(2) It cares two hoots for the health of the youth.
On the first aspect, be it remembered that no freedom is absolute and all liberties guaranteed by the Constitution are subject to reasonable restrictions, including the police power of the State, namely, public order, morality and health. The police power is founded on the wholesome principle that when there is a conflict between the rights of the individual and the interest of society, the later must prevail.
In an organised society, without which there cannot be any safeguard of individual rights, there cannot be any right which is injurious to the community as a whole. The police power is thus the authority to establish those rules of good conduct and neighbourliness which are calculated to prevent a conflict of rights and to ensure to each the uninterrupted enjoyment of his own, so far as that is reasonably consistent with a corresponding enjoyment by others.
It is the government’s power of self-preservation which permits reasonable regulation of rights and property which are essential to the prevention of the community from injury. (Binu Paulose v. District Collector - (1998) 2 KLT 1105). If the arguments of CBFC are accepted, the State will have to be denied its authority of police power which is essential for the maintenance of the well-being of the members of the community at large. Such an argument cannot be countenanced for the reasons already stated.
As regards the youth and tobacco, the State having realised the potential hazards of tobacco, passed a comprehensive law (2003) imposing stringent control on the lethal leaf which among other things prohibits sale of cigarette or other tobacco products to a person below the age of 18 years, sale of tobacco products within a radius of 100 yards of any educational institution, depiction of smoking scenes in cinemas and so on. The Law has its primary focus on the youth - as it should be - the promise of tomorrow and the hope of any nation. If tobacco consumption is to be curbed, the right time to act is teenage because trying to dissuade adult smokers is like nurturing treetops.
As part of its policy to combat tobacco menace, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued a notification in 2011 making it mandatory to display health warning scrolls in films, because films have a profound influence on the viewers especially the youth. Indian film industry is said to be the second largest in the world, probably next only to that of the United States of America. There are millions of young and the impressionable who may be influenced by what is depicted on the screen. They continue to be fascinated by the smoky aura depicted on the celluloid and in the process puff away their lives as well. This is because of the influence wielded by the big names in the film world. Cinema’s infatuation with cigarette is very old. If Humphrey Bogart’s rings of smoke choked him to death, his fans could not care less: they also followed him with disastrous consequences to their lives.
Back home, in India, we find big names smarting cigarettes in the films and with the result boys and girls start aping their favourite stars. Tragically, out of the 250 million tobacco-users in India, fifty million are youth and every day hundreds of teenagers get into the quicksand of tobacco.
Reverting to the display of health warning scrolls in films, I am of the opinion that warning scrolls should be displayed every time a smoking scene is displayed and not at the beginning and the end of the film as opined by the CBFC. I may even go to the extent of imposing a total ban on smoking in cinemas. It appears that the CBFC had in mind the two golden rules for an orchestra, when they made the monstrous suggestion noted supra:- “start together and finish together. The public does not give a damn what goes on in between.”
When the government is all out for tobacco control, it defies one’s comprehension how the CBFC functionaries can make such sweeping statements against the government’s policy and in favour of the merchants of death who pushed by dwindling sales at home (USA) are aggressively marketing cigarettes in developing countries and among those seduced by their shrewd advertising are the world’s children.
The attitude of the CBFC appears to be friendly with the film and tobacco industry, but hostile to the health interests of the population especially the youth.
The CBFC, it appears, is also totally in the dark about animal jurisprudence which has undergone a sea-change in recent times in tune with the constitutional mandate of compassion to fellow beings and evolving public consciousness and judicial pronouncements holding that animals are entitled to right to dignity.
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own)