Censor Board & Censorship of film

Speaking about the powers of Censor Board of Film certification, even the Bombay High Court has quoted in one of its judgement that the Board is using its powers arbitrarily. The reason behind this is that the Act was drafted in 1952 and is archaic. The Act is interpreted arbitrarily by the committees of the Censor Board in order to bar and suggest cuts on certain scenes in movies.

The process of film certification in the country is deeply flawed and the interpretation of various sections of the existing Cinematograph Act is more of a problem than the act itself. “The problem lies with the way people in-charge interpret the sections of the existing Act. It is this interpretation and the human interface that leads to moral policing. The word ‘censor’ should be removed from CBFC since it’s an old term. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in January, 2017 received the Shyam Benegal Report. The committee in its recent report on the revamp of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has asked for amendment of several sections of the Archaic Cinematograph Act of 1952.

According to the Cinematograph Act, the government is a legitimate party when it comes to deciding what the country can or cannot see. The CBFC is a statutory body. It is also referred to under Part II as Board of Films Censors. While we‘ve all been getting worried over why CBFC is censoring films, it‘s because they are equipped to do so via Part II Section 4 of Cinematograph Act. This particular clause gives the board the power to reject the films that come to them for certification. The Act also provides for pre-censorship or prior restraint. The CBFC has been given the responsibility of ensuring that films meet with the requirements under the Act and do not breach the reasonable restrictions upon free speech, which are listed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Article 19(2) is in itself an abstract work of art. A particular section of the Act even says that: A film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.

The Act is a study in vagueness and ridiculous moral gatekeeping. It‘s open to interpretation, representation and implementation by whoever is ruling the CBFC, or by whichever judge is hearing an appeal in court. The Udta Punjab producers are simply lucky that the film had public backing and the judge agreed with this point of view. The judgment in favour of Udta Punjab‘s release is not a triumph for freedom of expression, particularly since it has a cut and modifications that the court (not the filmmaker) deemed necessary. And the case is not just with Udta Punjab, it goes on for Padmavati, Lipstick Under my Burkha and the list in never ending. Bombay High Court in its judgment in Phantom Studios v CBFC & Union of India has stated that while it was an ―undisputed fact that “the CBFC had legal powers to suggest cuts and thus, creative freedom was not an absolute”, the CBFC could not use its powers “arbitrarily”. Although the board is empowered to make cuts, “it must remember that its job is to certify and not censor. We have gone through the script of Udta Punjab and it nowhere suggests that it affects the sovereignty and integrity of the nation or the state. Easy availability and accessibility of drugs has taken a toll particularly on the youth of Punjab and the authorities are struggling to control the menace. The filmmakers have chosen to highlight this problem through the character of Tommy, a rock star, who causes his own downfall through drug abuse”.

This article is authored by Shravani Sharma, student of BBA LL.B (Hons.) at VIT Law School, Chennai

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