Film certification in India: Here’s how it is done and why there are disputes over it

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Published: July 18, 2019 3:55:07 PM

CBFC: It is very important to understand the way a film is certified. In India, films are certified in four categories which are (U), (U/A), (A) and (S).

CBFC film certificationCBFC is a board under the ministry of I&B which provides necessary certifications to films.

The matter of certification in India keeps on coming to fore every now and then. Recently, it came to limelight when the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was hammered by the court for refusing to give a ‘U’ certification to Chidiakhana. The film was produced by the Children’s Film Society of India under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The CBFC had given a U/A certificate to Chidiakhana, over which the court said in a statement that CBFC is a certification board and not a censor board.

It is very important to understand the way a film is certified as the visual can have a lasting impact on us. Here is how the CBFC’s role is defined:

The organisational set-up of CBFC

The CBFC comprises of as much as 25 board members and 60 advisory panel members from across India and is headed by the Chairperson. These members are appointed by the I&B Ministry. Generally, the board members are film and TV professionals whereas the advisory panel is comprised of members who are often from outside the industry. The tenure of service of the chairperson and board members ranges to three years and that of the advisory panel members is up to two years from the date of appointment. The administrative functioning of the body is looked after by the CEO, but the Examining Committees that certify films consists of the regional officers.

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An Examining Committee is appointed by the Regional Officer, once a filmmaker applies for certification. The committee for certification of short films is quite different, as it consists of an examining officer and a member of the advisory panel with one of them being women. In some cases committee for short films has four members from the advisory panel and an examining officer and among them, two persons are to be women.

Certification Standards and Rule

The certification is done based on the content in four categories namely ‘unrestricted public exhibition (U)’, ‘parental guidance for children below age 12 (U/A)’, ‘adult (A)’, or ‘viewing by specialised groups (S)’. These decisions of allocation of one of these categories to a film is decided by the Regional Officer based on reports by Examining Committee members in unanimity or majority. If the committee has divided opinion, the chairperson will decide the category of the film.

According to reports, the case why Chiadiakhan was allotted ‘U/A’ certification was cited to be the presence of offensive and violent scenes like murder and attempts to murder, use of guns, depiction of goons, harsh and abusive language, bullying in school, children watching adult song video, attempt of suicide, winking at a women, and discrimination of north Indians in Mumbai.

Earlier, other children films have also been certified under the U/A category by the CBFC including the 2016 Hollywood film The Jungle Book based on Rudyard Kipling’s book and landed into widespread criticism.

Filmmaker Not Satisfied with the Certification. His next move …

The CBFC shared a list of “suggested changes” in most cases. If filmmaker who applied for certification is not satisfied or unhappy with the certification he/she received for the film or has a conflict of opinion with the suggested list of changes then he or she can apply to the Revising Committee. The Revising Committee is made of the Chairperson and up to nine committee members including members from the board and the advisory panel excluding the members from the advisory panel who have already viewed the film. The final decision is made by the chairperson.

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If not satisfied even with that, then the last option of appeal is the Appellate Tribunal. Appellate Tribunal is an independent body and its members are appointed by the ministry for three-year terms. Dispute beyond this body can be taken to a court.

What does the law say about ‘Suggested Changes’?

According to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the CBFC can “guide the applicant to carry out such excisions or modifications in the film as it deems necessary before sanctioning the film for public exhibition or refuses to sanction the film for public exhibition”.

Mumbai-based lawyer Ameet Naik, founder of Naik & Naik and a specialist in intellectual property rights, said “This is the certification board and not the censorship board anymore. Their job is to certify films based on this and the guidelines are fairly wide.” The lawyer quoted Article 19 of the Constitution and Section 5(b) of the Cinematograph Act while making the statement.

Section 5(b)of the Cinematograph Act- Definition

According to the Section 5(b) of the Cinematograph Act “a film shall not be certified if any part of it is against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite commission of any offence”.

The aforementioned guideline could vary from one CBFC member to the other depending on their intellect. The decision of Certification is often done on individual inclinations in the Examining Committee, whose members come from various walks of life.

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