The I&B ministry’s proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act represents the perfect ‘bait and switch’. It proposes age-based certification—a demand the film industry has been raising for years—which signals a more mature certification regime.
The I&B ministry’s proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act represents the perfect ‘bait and switch’. It proposes age-based certification—a demand the film industry has been raising for years—which signals a more mature certification regime. It also talks about battling the menace of piracy, with harsh punitive prescriptions, including jail-term of upto three years and fines upto 5% of audited gross production cost (of a film). Given one estimate pegs piracy in India as a loss of close to $3 billion annually suffered by the film industry, the government may have hoped the industry would come out in support of the amendment Bill.
But, the fact is that there are enough penal provisions in the law to act against piracy, and many prominent film industry persons have called for, in an open letter to the ministry, making the offence “bailable and non-cognisable”. What is really draconian, though, is the Centre’s move to arrogate sweeping censorship powers to itself, by proposing an amendment of the provisions on the government’s revisionary remit.
The I&B ministry, in its June 18 note, acknowledges the limits that the High Court of Karnataka has placed on the government directly exercising censorship powers in KM Shankarappa. As per the judgment, the Centre can’t exercise revisional powers for films already certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC); this was later upheld by the Supreme Court. However, to nullify this, the ministry proposes to add to the existing provisions of the Cinematograph Act and grant the Centre the power to direct the CBFC chair to review a certification granted by the body. It cites the possibility of complaints of violation of Section 5B post-certification to seek revisionary powers; Section 5B mirrors the Article 19 (2) of the Constitution that places reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. The section also grants the government sweeping powers in terms of framing of directions on ‘guiding principles’ for film certification. What is worse, the amendment proposed not only seeks a government yoke on film certification, but also lends itself to censorship by the mob—the revisionary power will be exercised on “receipt of any references by the Central Government in respect of a film certified for public exhibition”. Under Section 5E of the existing Act, the government already retains the power to revoke or suspend the certification of a film, and in April 2021, through an ordinance on tribunal reforms, has shut down the appellate authority for film certification, leaving the courts as the only recourse for anyone wishing to challenge a decision of the CBFC.
The fact is that even ideological differences—not just with the present dispensation at the Centre, but even the ones to come—could result in use of direct censorship by the Centre for thought-control. This has happened in the past, and isn’t hard to imagine happening in the future. Imagine a Ram ke Naam meeting the same fate as Kissa Kursi Ka, but in a perfectly legal manner! The government needs to keep in mind the words of Justice DY Chandrachud in the matter involving the Bengali film Bhobisyoter Bhoot: “The artist … is entitled to the fullest liberty and freedom to critique and criticise.”