New proposals on cinema censorship are wrong, unnecessary. Film board and courts are enough

What is the context?

Included in proposed amendments of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, is the provision that on the complaint of any member of the public, the government can recall an already certified film to re-examine it and if it, unfortunately, agrees with the member of the public, a new process of certification shall start.

Why is this not necessary?

A few months back, the tribunal court in the film certification process was abolished. The reason given was that if a filmmaker is not satisfied with the certification board or a revision committee’s decision, they can challenge the verdict in courts. Why can’t the same reason be applied to the supposedly aggrieved member of the public who has problems with a film? Why is the autonomy of the board of film certification being diluted? What’s the purpose or motive behind?

Why is the certification board enough?

Let’s understand the formation of the film certification board. The board’s members are eminent people from various sections of society. These members are selected by the I&B ministry along with the chairperson of the board, who is also selected by the ministry. Usually, every film is seen and certified by a committee of these members along with an authority from the board.

It’s very hard to understand that when everyone is selected by the government and they represent various social groups, ranging from a professor to a homemaker, why should a film be recalled for examination, just because a member of the public feels unhappy about any aspect of the film.

Why is it futile to expect no disagreement?

In a healthy democracy, different opinions on the same subject will always exist. People will question, contradict, agree or doubt and there has to be a fair way to deal with their objections. Each person has the option and liberty to like and dislike a film, and if offended, take it to court. Authorities should honour and respect the decision taken by board members selected by them. The autonomy of institutions like these is a must for the health of the democracy of our country.

What is good about the proposed amendment?

There are also some long overdue good amendments, which should not be left unacknowledged, like a rating system based on the age of the viewer, stringent punishment for piracy of films, and many other recommendations made by a panel of experts headed by the legendary filmmaker, Shyam Benegal. I’m sure this recalling of the certification process was not proposed by Benegal’s brigade.

What strange rules have been proposed by other governments?

Let’s go back in time and review a farcical amendment made by the health ministry of the previous government which enforced a rule that a ticker of a statutory warning should run on the screen whenever a character uses tobacco products. This rule made us the only country in the world that imposes such an extreme measure that disrespects the art of cinema. In international film festivals, people laugh while watching our films. I wished that authorities treated the root of the disease rather than clipping branches.

Instead of forcing an unaesthetic and impractical ticker on the beautiful frame of a film, make tobacco products so expensive that they go beyond the reach of the majority. But, it seems that the tobacco lobby is much stronger than the film guilds of our industry.

How can new censor rules really complicate matters?

The proposed amendment will give the right to recall any film from the past. What if someone has a problem with creations of Satyajit Ray or Adoor Gopalakrishnan or Ritwik Ghatak and their films are recalled for recertification? What will happen if someone has a problem with Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra?

How should we approach censorship?

By accepting cinema as a form of fine art. In fact it is an amalgamation of all the fine arts put together – painting, music, dance, drama and poetry. Let’s hope that the I&B ministry and bureaucrats work towards creating a space where cinema can flourish rather than chaining and caging it.

In a democracy we must learn to coexist with our nemesis. We must learn to agree to disagree.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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