The HC noted that films were a medium to explain difficult issues like caste discrimination, addiction, etc, to children, and the CBFC’s action in this case showed that it considered viewers “infantile and imbecile”.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) received a sharp rebuke from the Bombay High Court last week for certifying a children’s film as U/A, meaning that children aged below 12 couldn’t watch it unsupervised. In January, the CBFC—more popular, tellingly, as the Censor Board—had asked the producer, the Children’s Film Society of India, to mute a certain word and delete a particular scene to which the latter agreed. Yet, the film was denied the U (unrestricted) certificate that would allow children of all ages to watch the film in theatres. The Bombay HC told the CBFC it was a “certification body and not a censor board”, and it didn’t have the “intellectual morality and authority to decide what one wants to watch”. The HC noted that films were a medium to explain difficult issues like caste discrimination, addiction, etc, to children, and the CBFC’s action in this case showed that it considered viewers “infantile and imbecile”. Despite a series of questionable, even some reprehensible past decisions, the CBFC evidently continues to think of censoring as its primary function, over a more pragmatic regulatory role that focuses on certification. But, why blame the CBFC? The Union government itself seems to have no clarity on how cinematic content is to be regulated.
It has been three years since an expert-panel headed by director Shyam Benegal recommended shifting to a certification-only regime unless the film violates Section 5B (2) of the Cinematograph Act 1952, which allows the Centre to issue directions for certification if a film, or any part of it, is against the interests of the sovereignty and security of India, or is inimical to friendly relations with foreign states, involves defamation/contempt of court or is deemed to affect public order, or if the film exceeds the limits set for the highest degree of certification. It suggested that the existing UA certification include the sub-categories UA12+ and UA15+, assuming a correlation between age and maturity. The panel had called for scrapping the CBFC’s power to recommend cuts.
However, two subsequent inter-ministerial meetings on repealing/amending the Cinematograph Act 1952 and Rules 1983—the Act needed significant amendments for many of the Benegal recommendations to be implemented—held that extensive deliberation was needed since this could “end up ignoring diverse sensibilities across the country”. So, the government sought wider consultation to decide how the nuances of issues such as depiction of women, representation of social realities, etc, were to be built into the regulation of cinematic content. The inter-ministerial meetings ended in 2017; ever since, the Benegal recommendations and re-imagining of film regulation have been in a limbo. The government and the CBFC fail to appreciate that theatre-releases are not the only way the public now watches films—from streaming websites to OTT platforms, there is a whole new digital world where cinema, censored and uncensored, is available to viewers. Given how delivery on the internet has no regard for borders, much less regulatory regimes, the government and CBFC shouldn’t think of censorship as effective.