Shyam Benegal Committee: Certify vs Censor Game
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry set up a committee under filmmaker Shyam Benegal to review the film certification process
Let’s first dive into some details of the Censor board
- The Central Board of Film Certification (also known as the Censor Board ) is a statutory censorship and classification body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
- It regulates public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952
- It assigns certifications to films, television shows, television ads and publications for exhibition, sale or hire, in India.
Let’s know about the composition of the board
- The censor board consists of 25 other non-official members and a chairperson. <All are appointed by the Centre>
- Pahlaj Nihalani currently presides the board, replacing Leela Samson who resigned last year
- The board’s headquarters is in Mumbai. It has nine regional offices
What happened to Mukul Mudgal committee report? Wasn’t it tasked to do the same thing?
In February 2013, the UPA govt. appointed Justice Mukul Mudgal to head a committee to examine issues of certification under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Precisely the same thing.
- The Mudgal Committee submitted its report in September 2013
- It went into considerable detail, looked at the existing law and where it could be amended, even worked on a draft law
- It formulated a system of certification for films to replace the current one
Why appoint another committee to do the same work?
What were the recommendations of Mudgal Committee?
- It noted that the nature and size of the film industry has changed beyond recognition since the 1952 Act and the same set of rules had little relevance today
- It said no criteria had been set for selecting those who were on the advisory panels of the film certification boards. This lacuna is glaringly evident in the selection of some of those on the current censor board, including its chair
- Suggested replacing the term ‘advisory panel’ with screening panel. This more accurately represented the task before the CBFC
- Questioned the manner in which state govternments frequently suspend or cancel screening of films anticipating law and order problems when individuals or groups object
It also suggested five categories for film certification as the existing two categories were insufficient.
What were those five categories?
A new form of classification of films:
- Unrestricted exhibition U
- For persons who have completed 12 years of age 12+
- For persons who have completed 15 years of age 15+
- Restricted to adults A
- Restricted to members of any profession or any class of persons, having regard to the nature, content and theme of the film S
These categories reflect similar categories followed in many other countries.
But frankly, tell me what’s CBFC’s job? To certify or to censor!
Yes, the government needs to remember that the job of the CBFC is to certify films and not to censor them
- There are very few specific areas under which the board could ask the filmmaker to make changes or cuts
- But the Censor Board has often demanded cuts in films based entirely on the subjective interpretation of the law by its members
How can an advisory panel have people with no expertise in cinema or art?
- In any case, terms such as “obscene” or “immoral” that appear in the law can only be subjectively defined. Often filmmakers complain of films being viewed through a conservative “moralistic prism” by the panel
- Some women’s groups and individuals accuse the CBFC of giving too much latitude to filmmakers
- The CBFC has earned the infamy of demanding random and illogical cuts, leaving filmmakers with no option but to accept them or delay release by going into appeal. If its job is to certify, that is what it should be doing
But, how does one determine whether obscenity and violence are actually detrimental to society?
These are not the things one can sit down in judgement over, at least so easily.
- This is where we need to address the question of how much philosophical, psychological and sociological expertise members of the censor board have
- Recently, CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has invited the ire of the industry for his overbearing ways and for being excessively censorious
- These are problems that have happened in the censor board even in the past
So then the onus of censorship should be on the filmmakers. Is that a possible way out?
- It’s a very difficult responsibility, because at the end of the day cinema is a commercial business and audiences have to be drawn in to recover investment
- The govt is not going to get rid of the censor board any time soon
- Many even say there is no need for a censor board in a democracy
- If we are capable of changing governments on the basis of our votes, we know what’s good for us when it comes to watching films
So why can’t we decide what is good for us to watch?
It would have been simpler to accept Mudgal Committee suggestions rather than asking another committee to go over the same ground unless the purpose is to use this to push these issues under the carpet once again. Finally, cinema is the mirror of society and reflection of what society is!