Saturday, January 10, 2015 - 17:19

Nayantara N| The News Minute| December 7, 2014| 10.40 pm IST

(Opinion)

Last year, the government banned Comedy Central for a week for airing two shows that were “not suitable for unrestricted public exhibition and children as the same depicted women as a commodity of sex and appeared to deprave, corrupt and injure the public morality and moral.” This government decision was upheld by the Delhi high Court recently. 

While the government seems to be touchy about regressive content, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), also under the ministry of Information and Broadcasting seems happy certifying movies with violence, sexual innuendos and regressive messages as watchable for all.

Ajay Devgan and Prabhudeva’s latest flick Action Jackson has been criticised by almost every media house for being extremely sexist and brutal. Women are objectified, beaten mercilessly; there is blood and gore everywhere and yet it was given a U/A certificate.

As Firstpost points out, "What Action Jackson exposes, literally and figuratively, countless impressionable minds to is infinitely worse than any of Comedy Central's programming".

Action Jackson isn’t the only one. Many movies with huge doses of violence, blood spurting and merciless bashing has sailed through. Ghajini, Force, Agneepath, Gulaab gang, Rajneeti. No surprises for guessing, but all of the five movies were accorded the ‘U/A’ certificate by the Censor board, after a few cuts that is. But nevertheless, even after the ‘cuts’ were made, the movies had disturbing visuals.

More recently, ‘Little Superman’ a children’s movie directed by Malayalam film-maker Vinayan sailed through the censor board and was accorded a U’ certification – appropriate for universal viewing. But within days, the movie had to be pulled off screen as people protested for the amount of violence in a children’s movie.

Only a handful of documentary films get an opportunity to be screened at a theatre, after careful scrutiny and demands of several ‘cuts’ to avert ‘communal tensions and propagandist messages.’ 

According to a PIL filed in the court, Haider was labelled to be anti-national and was condemned for portraying the Indian army as the ones committing atrocities on Kashmiris. Anand Patwardhan’s movies/documentaries which captured real life political and communal events were banned by censor board and each led to a court battle. Why? 

Enough examples stated, it is amply clear that the CBFC is not doing its job all too well. So where does the problem lie? 

Firstly, they are short staffed. An article in Mid-day quoted a staff member as follows - “There is a heavy backlog — about 40 feature films and 100 video films are awaiting certification. There are only 40 people with us while there were about 150 members last term.” 

In a blog post written in Times of India, Leela Samson, the Chairperson of CBFC “90% of her colleagues are “uneducated” and an “embarrassment”, many with political links.” The board has not published its annual report since 2011 and the term of the chairperson has expired and yet there is no successor available.

Secondly, the CEO of CFBC Rakesh Sharma who was arrested in August for accepting bribe to clear a film certification was a former Railway personnel officer. Most film makers wants a U or U/A certificate despite the blood and gore, or commercial viability is drastically hit. The arrest has once again proved that giving and taking bribes to achieve the desired certification, without many cuts, is the industry's norm.

Lastly, the board comes under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry which implies that it wields generous amount of clout on the functioning of the board and its people.

Having stated the reasons for the inefficient functioning, what the board needs is hands on the deck, not 5-10 professionals, but at least a 70-80 considering India produces approximately 4000 movies (everything put-together) annually (Wikipedia).

In countries like Australia, Britian and the US, film censor boards are independent bodies unlike India. Our censor board is controlled by the government and thus politically influenced. One cannot fight back since the board relies on the I&B ministry for its funding. 

Whatever the reasons are, the fault lines are showing, and it is time for corrective actions.

But is an independent censor board a solution to the problems they face? Or perhaps should they consider a change in structure and functioning principles?

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