The Indian film industry produces about 1800 movies in different languages, making India the largest film producer in the world. In our society, movies are considered to provide entertainment, as well as education. Movies are also expected to mirror the reality of the society that we live in. Ironically, movies are targeted often in the name of “morality” and “Indian sensibility”.
Cinema, as an art form, has always drawn a disproportionate interest from the judiciary. Recently, controversies arose over Prakash Jha-produced Lipstick Under My Burkha and Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar, which led to the never-ending debate upon the rule of morality in the name of the law.
The Constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression (Article 21). The freedom enshrined in the Constitution applies to cinema as well. A total censorship and absolute freedom can both be problematic. Citizens of the country as complex as ours have varying needs, requirements and sensibilities and one have to strike a balance. Other than that, the Cinematograph Act of 1952 was derived from colonial censorship laws. But the world has changed dramatically. Even if ‘the masses’ were somehow extra ‘gullible’ in the India of the 1960s, the average ‘visual literacy level’ has gone up dramatically in this age of 24x7 TV, YouTube and video-selfies.
The basic idea behind vetting is to ensure that censorship and reasonable restrictions are required because of the impact that cinema can have on the minds of the viewing public. That is why films have to be certified in order for them to be exhibited in a public place according to age as Unrestricted, Adult or Under Parental Guidance or Special category.
Generally, films are banned for the following reasons-
- movies which depict the country in a bad light,
- movies which portray the life of our leaders, but in an unfavourable manner,
- movies which depict communal violence are prone to be banned,
- movies which hurt the religious sentiments of the people, and
- movies which portray obscenity and deal with tabooed subjects.
The name of the Central Board of Film Censors was changed to the Central Board of Film Certification in 1983. The responsibility of the CBFC, which is to certify films according to age. The certification should make it clear that UA means watching films under parental guidance. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that he or she accompanies the child. Movies certified Adult should not be censored at all. The ratings are meant to indicate the category under which the films are certified as U, UA, S, and A. And as long as you certify films, you need a certification board. The certification board should certify and not censor. The Central Board of Film Certification or Censor Board comes under the purview of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Board regularly orders, directors to remove anything it deems offensive or subjects considered to be politically subversive.
Actor-filmmaker Amol Palekar’s Public Interest Litigation challenged the ‘pre-censorship’ of films and, in particular, the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 which, in turn, impose pre-censorship on the freedom of speech and expression of the artists as well as the audience. The issue isn’t a new one.
The petitioner contended that in the age of internet and social media, the existing set of rules providing for pre-censorship of films have to undergo change. Also, filmmakers across the nation with the media close on its heels have been screaming out that the Central Board of Film Certification(CBFC) is “not a Censor Board but a Certifying Board” and allege they have been misusing their powers.
It seems that censorship can be a weapon in the hands of the State to make people agree with its ideology. Often the Censor Board functions to impose the State's notion of Indianness and nationhood. The reach and power of films in India are massive. If a director wants to show the reality, he has to put it in a movie and then what happens, the censor board removes it. Now is the time to look into the role that can be played by healthy criticism, analysis, and cinema literacy, rather than relying on a Censor Board that acts as a moral police, stopping the dissent.
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