The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is in the news again. In the past, the Board has been criticised heavily for its moralistic tendencies and arbitrary requirements to pass a film. It's more of a censor board rather than a certification board, people from the film industry had said.
And now, the possibility of a bill aimed at amending the Cinematography Act to reduce the powers of the CBFC has become the point of discussion among stakeholders. While many filmmakers believe that this bill is a required change, some worry that it could also give more powers to the central government.
A committee headed by Shyam Benegal was formed under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting "to lay down a holistic framework for certification of films" last year. The draft of the bill states, “CBFC should only be a film certification body whose scope should be restricted to categorising the suitability of the film to audience groups on the basis of age and maturity.”
Speaking about the current situation, Ganesh Raj, director of the Malayalam film, Aanandam, said, “Yesterday I was watching Spiderman and the word ‘porn’ was beeped out, I don’t understand how the word ‘porn’ will affect the people. It's only by beeping it that it is getting more importance. The whole system does need a change and a lot of movies are getting cuts for unnecessary reasons. We, as directors and writers, are always restricted and asked to write in a certain way or talk in a certain way."
Ganesh Raj's angst is shared by many. For instance, there was a huge controversy when despite winning awards at the Mumbai Film Festival and Tokyo Film Festival, Lipstick under my Burkha, was refused a certificate by the CBFC for being a "lady oriented" film which had sexual content.
The response from the CBFC, according to reports, read, “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are continuous sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society."
Many other films like Indu Sarkar, Udta Punjab and so on have also come under the CBFC's clippers.
There is no need for censorship of films at all, says Malayalam film director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan.
"Drama and plays are not being censored, then why is it applicable to films alone? People know what they should watch, let them make the decision," Sanal opines.
Reiterating the idea that people should make the decision, Jayaprakash, director of the Tamil film Lens, says, “Definitely I feel that powers of the censor board must be curtailed and the people should be allowed to decide. It should be a rating agency like how it is all over the world, let the people decide what they want to watch and what they do not want to.”
Jayaprakash asserts that the CBFC should not be allowed to make cuts. “They should watch the movie and tell us if it is viewable for kids or not, they can specify if there is nudity or violence. They should not be allowed to tell what bits are to be cut,” adds Jayaprakash.
Sanal feels that there are a few loopholes in the draft bill.
"Even as the power of the censor board for ordering cuts is being taken away, the board is being given the power to rate the film. Some additional certifications such as A+, are being included in the draft bill, that restricts the film from being screened in public. This means that the censor board is making it all the more difficult for a filmmaker to screen his movies," he says.
The draft bill is only old wine in a new bottle, says Jayan Cheriyan, director of Ka Bodyscapes.
"The recommendations state that the board shouldn't ask for cuts and edits but give an adult with caution rating. But the fact is that, when a film is certified with adult with caution rating, it automatically limits the audience. Under this category, the film can only be exhibited in less populated and red light districts, that too post midnight," observes Jayan, predicting how the certification will work on ground.
Sanal, whose feature film Sexy Durga continues to win laurels, points out that filmmakers who dare to experiment with new themes and subjects are being targeted by the CBFC.
"Filmmakers are a minority and we cannot win this if we are alone in the struggle. The audience is asking us why we are not making more films and exhibiting them. But they need to ask this question to the CBFC," he points out.
The recommendations in the draft bill also state that the categorisation of the films must be more specific - there are more sub-categories to be included, like UA12+ & UA15+. The 'A' category is also to be sub-divided into A and AC (Adult with Caution) categories, states the bill.
In countries like Singapore, the Media Development Authority (MDA) classifies films under six different ratings which are G (general), PG (parental guidance), PG 13 (parental guidance for children below 13), NC16 (no children under the age of 16), M18 (restricted to persons 18 years and above), R21 (strictly for adults above 21 and NAR (not allowed for all ratings).
Ganesh Raj also feels that the current rating system puts a lot of pressure on the directors and producers. “I feel that instead of U, A and U/A, there needs to be more ratings. It's not their power but their approach which should be changed,” he notes.
The committee has made certain recommendations regarding the functioning of the Board and has stated that the Board, including the Chairman, should only play the role of a guiding mechanism and not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of certification of films.
However, some filmmakers are concerned that this move will mean that the central government will have more powers.
Jayan Cheriyan says that while the central government is trying to portray that it is restricting the CBFC from censorship, what it is doing is "sugarcoating" the same process.
"This way, the government will have a direct control on which films can be exhibited and which ones cannot. This is only a clever way of banning a film, without using the word 'ban'," he says.
"The Cinematography Act is itself a draconian law that crushes all kinds of dissent," he adds. He further alleges that by amending the bill, the government can, in effect, ban a film, within the law.
"The draft bill also empowers the government to take decisions regarding the screening of the films, in public interest. Now what is public interest? In this time when cow sentiment runs deep, 'public interest' means the majority. It all depends on how you interpret it," concludes Jayan.