What Central Board of Film certification actually is?
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body formed under the Cinematograph Act 1952. It is a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Cinematograph Act manufactures a regime of pre-censorship which is, in technical terms, called a regime of “prior restraint”.
The main responsibility of the board is to ensure that any content of any film does not fall into any of the categories of “reasonable restrictions upon free speech”. These restrictions are mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Article 19(2) of the constitution consists of a set of abstract phrases such as defamation”, “decency or morality, “public order”, and so on.
The CBFC has certain guidelines which have been changed from time to time. At present, these guidelines check (among other things) mainly three things:
1. Words or visuals which promote obscurantist, communal, anti-national, and anti-scientific attitudes are not presented in the movie.
2. The double meaning words which obviously cater to baser instincts are not allowed.
3. It also checks that whether any part of the movie does not offend human sensibilities by depravity, vulgarity, or obscenity.
Any film can be exhibited in the country publicly only after they have been duly certified by this organization.
How CBFC functions?
The central government appoints a Chairman and the non-official members who constitute the Board. Headquarter of the board is located in Mumbai. The CBFC has nine regional offices which include Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore Chennai, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, New Delhi, Guwahati and Cuttack. The advisory panels assist the regional offices in the examination of the films. The members of the advisory panels belong to different walks of life. These members are nominated by the Central government for tenure of two years.
There are 25 members and 60 advisory panel members in the board from across India. All these members are appointed by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry. The CEO is mainly responsible for administrative functions, and regional officers are responsible for the examining committees that certify films.
The relevant regional officer receives an application for certification, and then he appoints an Examining Committee. In the case of short films, the examining committee consists of a member of an examining officer and the advisory panel, one of whom must be a woman. For general films, the committee consists of an examining officer and four members of the advisory panel and. Two members of the committee must be women.
If the applicant isn’t satisfied with the list of changes and the certification he or she can apply to the Revising Committee for a review. The revising committee has the chairperson, a mix of the Board and the Advisory, and up to nine committee members. Any member who was part of the committee who viewed the film is not included in the revising committee. A similar process is adopted at this stage too, and the chairman has the final say on the matter.
In case of further dissatisfaction with the certification, the matter goes to an independent Appellate Tribunal. The members of Appellate Tribunal are appointed by Information and Broadcast ministry for a term of three years. Any further dispute goes to court.
The Certification Process
The certification process is based on the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the guidelines issued by the Central government u/s 5 (B) and the Cinematograph (certification) Rules, 1983.
The primary function of the body is to assign each film to one of the four categories -
U – Unrestricted public exhibition
A- Restricted to adults
UA –Unrestricted public exhibition (a word of caution is mentioned for parents that Parental discretion required for children below 12 years)
S – Restricted to any special class of people (for example, Teachers, Doctors)
The goal of the CBFC is to ascertain that healthy entertainment is provided to the general public of the country. The certification process is usually kept very transparent. Any film, be it Indian or Foreign, must get certified by the CBFC before being screened in India.
Some Recent Film Controversies
In 2016 itself there were many censorship related controversies which came on the surface. These controversies have massively impacted the entertainment industry in general and especially Bollywood in particular. These controversies may not be said as a prohibition on free speech but it was mere whims and fancies of certain section of people. Some of the films which recently hit the controversies are Vishwaroopam directed by Kamal Hasan (2013), Udta Punjab directed by Abhishek Choube ( 2016) and Lipstick under my burkha(2017) directed by Alankrita Srivastava.
Reasons of Film Controversies
The roots of many controversies pertaining to the CBFC are the 19-point guidelines formulated by the Information and Broadcast Ministry in 1978 which were amended in 1991. These guidelines are followed by tan advisory panel member, who views films and certifies them. These guidelines suggest cuts or certifying films. Here are some examples of such guidelines which become a reason for controversy when it comes to censor and certify the films.
1. Rule 2(vi) a, says that “scenes tending to justify, encourage, or glamorize consumption of tobacco or smoking are not shown.” How this statement is used by the viewing panel is completely subjective. The Centre had ordered CBFC to make it mandatory for filmmakers to show a disclaimer during smoking scenes. Anurag Kashyap, a film director challenged this rule as “arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional”. He lost the battle in the High Court.
2. Guideline 2(vii) states that “human sensibilities are not offended by obscenity, vulgarity, or depravity” makes an impactful combination with guideline 2(viii) which states that “such dual meaning words which directly cater to baser instincts are not allowed.
Guideline 2(ix) states that scenes which denigrate or degrade women in any manner are not presented and all these scenes would be applicable to the cuss words list. The application of this guideline has created many controversies the recent one is Udata Punjab.
3. Similarly, the clutch of guidelines that censor words or scenes or words that question national integrity and sovereignty, endanger or jeopardize the security of the state, could impact friendly relations with foreign states, or endanger public order, are not allowed. An example of it are cuts in documentary filmmaker Pankaj Butalia’s film “The Textures of Loss” which examines the impact of two decades of violent insurgency on Kashmiri people.
The Government’s Attempt to Solve the Film Controversies in India:
There is no paucity of committees that have examined issues and problems pertaining to certification of films in India. In 1969, the Khosla Committee report had suggested the necessity of doing away with the hegemony of the Centre over the Censor Board.
Recently, the government has made two major half-hearted attempts to salve the problems by appointing commissions to review the process of censorship. In this direction, the government formed the Mukul Mudgal Committee in 2013. But its report was found inadequate and eventually consigned to the dustbin.
Then expectations shifted to the recently-formed Shyam Benegal Committee (2016) on film censorship. Many eminent film personalities were on the Benegal committee and there was hope that at least, this time, the issue would be solved with the seriousness it deserved. But the final report released by the committee has shunned most of the expectations.
The main themes of the report have indicated that from now on the focus will be on certification and not censorship. And the numbers of members of the CBFC will be reduced from 25 to 9.
It also increased the categories of certification by two i.e. one for adults and one for minors. The combination of political appointments in committees and the politics of state ensure that films are censored and not certified.
The Benegal Committee could look at recommendations made in the past for clues to the future, Perhaps the Benegal Committee could recommend doing away with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s powers to appoint members to the censor board. It may help in keeping political influence away from the process of certifying and censoring the films.
The restrictive norms on creative freedom have loosened over the decade. And in a democratic setup, the freedom of speech and expression symbolize the right of individuality. Since creative freedom is not an unbridled right, the need of the hour is to review the intent and the motive behind such norms. It is important that the ministry of broadcasting and information provides a white paper with the detailed processes of a voluntary rating system and its implementation written on it.
And, in case, the CBFC declines to clear films and advises cuts on the basis of section 5B(1), which filmmakers think are not just and appropriate, they can always challenge the decision in the court.