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Shyam Benegal committee bats for removal of anti-smoking ads during films

The committee, led by filmmaker Shyam Benegal, has recommended replacing the anti-smoking short at the beginning of films by a static visual. The recommendations also include the removal of warnings that appear during every smoking scene in films. 

Shriram Iyengar

When the Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley, invited Shyam Benegal to head a committee overseeing reforms into the CBFC, it was hoped that the former director would bring some sense into the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification. The recommendations by the Shyam Benegal committee seem to be a step in the right direction. 

Submitted in June this year, the recommendations are laid out across a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from censorship to artistic freedom. The latest set of recommendations suggest that the panel is also in favour of abolishing the anti-smoking videos that precede every film screening. The committee has suggested replacing the videos with a static image warning against the risks of smoking. In addition, the anti-smoking warnings that accompany every scene depicting smoking in the film will also be done away with. 

The panel, which also consists of film industry members like Kamal Haasan, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Piyush Pandey among others, has also suggested using the same actors who are shown smoking in the film to participate in short clips for anti-smoking to be shown preceding the film. These measures come as a relief to filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap who have battled long and hard to get the government to remove these warnings.

The other recommendations by the committee include simplifying the process to acquire a No Objection Certificate from the Animal Welfare Board for filmmakers. It has also put forth a case to abolish the necessity of the certificate for animals like goats, cows, dogs which are part of a village or city setting. In case of special scenes, filmmakers will be able to pay for and acquire services of veterinary personnel from the AWB to be present at the shooting of the scenes. This will spare the filmmakers another screening in order to acquire the certificate from the CBFC. 

Previously, in June, the committee had submitted a list of key recommendations such as:

1. Restricting the role of CBFC to film certification and categorising the suitability of films to audience groups based on maturity and age. 

2. Allowing recertification of films to be shown on television and other media. 

3. Online submissions of applications and simplification of documentation for filmmakers. 

4. Permitting out-of-turn certification at the payment of higher dues. 

Considering the bad blood between filmmakers and the CBFC over the last year, these steps by the committee might help in smoothing relations between the two camps for a while, and if implemented it could offer much-needed relief to the filmmakers.