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Filmmakers slam proposed amendment to Cinematograph Act that allows for re-certification of films


The clause enables the government to restrict the screening of movies that have been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification.

Keyur Seta

Shriram Iyengar

The government of India has sought public feedback on the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021. The most controversial clause in the draft is one that would empower the government to recall for 're-certification' a film that has already been cleared for public exhibition by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). In other words, the clause would allow the government to restrict the screening of films that have already been cleared by the CBFC.

Not surprisingly, this hasn’t gone down well with filmmakers. Veteran Shyam Benegal said, “If you have the CBFC, why does the government have to come in? The CBFC is there to screen films, audio-visual material that is produced by different groups, professionals and amateurs. If it’s there, what role does the government have?”

Shyam Benegal

Explaining the rationale for the CBFC's existence, he said, “The government set [the CBFC] up in order for it not to be influenced by any private group or government institution. The idea was that if there is anything that goes into the public realm which is unconstitutional, to prevent that from happening. Why do you need anything beyond that? This only complicates matters, opens it up for unnecessary litigation.”

Benegal added that such legislation has no place in a democratic society. “We have our rights, we also have obligations. [Film certification] is only to establish that everything is in order. It is not an instrument to stop people from doing what they want to do,” he said.

The filmmaker said the move might be understandable if the country were going through a serious crisis. “We have certain fundamental rights, which are sacred," he said. "Only in very special circumstances like war or vast internal disturbances can you temporarily suspend them, otherwise, you can’t.”

Komal Nahta

Veteran trade analyst Komal Nahta said, “This is a very harsh decision. This gives absolute power to the central government. If there is a body to certify films, you can’t say, 'We are above them'. For so many years it has been functioning, and it has been working well. The censor board is a reliable body which knows what is good and bad.”

Nahta said the new clause simply causes one to question the credibility of the CBFC. “On the one hand, you are saying this body is responsible for certification. On the other, by introducing this clause, you are trying to say it’s not fit enough," he said. "If it’s not fit enough, why is it there? I think there will be a lot of resentment in the industry because it’s like encroaching on freedom of speech and expression.”

Earlier this year, the government also dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), where filmmakers who were unhappy with a CBFC decision could seek redress.

Young filmmaker Pratik Rajen Kothari preferred to look at the funny side of the dissolution of the FCAT and the arrival of the new draft. Making an analogy, he said, “As 10th standard students if we get fewer marks than expected, we opt for re-evaluation. But this is the opposite. It’s like the examiner asking, 'How can this student get so many marks, let’s re-examine his paper!' In cricket, if every decision is taken by the third umpire, what will the on-ground umpires do? It’s ironic that the people who are aggrieved can’t appeal any more, but people who have certified a film can re-check if their certification was right!”

Pratik Rajen Kothari

The amendment also suggests stricter punishment for piracy such as jail terms and fines. Kothari welcomed this. “This is a positive move," he said. "Piracy is a big issue we are facing on the internet. Everything is available on torrents and other such places. We all spend so much of our creative energy. This is a plus point and I am looking forward to what is going to come out of that.”

Nahta also had no problem with the anti-piracy clause. But he was concerned about its implementation. “There are already anti-piracy laws in the country," he pointed out. "But they are toothless because there is no implementation. Just passing a law isn’t enough. There has to be implementation.”

Veteran filmmaker Gautam Ghose said his only concern was censorship. “I don’t want to make any comment on this. My main question is why censor cinema? Gradation is fine, why censorship? There is no censorship when it comes to theatre, musical performances, literature and television. The reach of television is far greater than cinema. Why cinema? This is my basic question.”

Nicholas Kharkongor, known for the acclaimed film Axone (2019), said, “I haven't had a chance to look at it properly. But I am not surprised. It is a continuation of the government's agenda to stifle dissent. It was a matter of time before it arrived in our domain. Of course, it is not okay. It is extremely worrisome. But, it is what the government is intent on doing. We don’t like it, obviously.” 

Five years ago, a committee headed by Benegal was formed to decide on the censorship issue and it recommended the idea of grading films instead of censoring them. The report was never implemented. 

Gautam Ghose

Earlier this year, CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi said the committee's report has become redundant because of the boom in over-the-top platforms. Benegal said he agreed with Joshi. But Ghose, who was also part of that committee, was not happy about its efforts going waste.

“It was a good initiative to reform the idea of film certification for the modern age," the filmmaker said. "We worked for almost two years, travelling to different places across the country, talking to people and taking opinions. We had given thought to this process of gradation. We had taken opinions from industry people and social organizations. This is an important issue. This was done under the same government. So, I don't understand the dichotomy.”

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Censorship Indian cinema