Certification or Censor ?

After a huge and prolonged controversy, the feature film ‘Udata Punjab’ which the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) wanted to be subjected to about 90 cuts,(including all expletives) was finally cleared by the Bombay High Court with just a single cut adding, though that the Court would have been happier if the expletives were avoided. This partially vindicated the Board’s stand. I feel that some empathy for CBFC is in order.

2. The procedure laid down by the Central Government under the Cinematograph Act 1952 for the certification of feature films requires that the film be first examined by a examining committee with 4 members and an examining officer, 2 of whom have to be women. If the Chairman considers necessary, the film has to be further reviewed by a Reviewing Committee again consisting of multiple members including women. It is easy to see that it is easier for a single person, sitting as an examiner or a judge to come to a firm conclusion than for a multi-person forum to come to an agreed conclusion. The multi-person and multi-level examination of the films has obviously been prescribed in view of the sensitive and complex nature of the principles for guidelines in certifying films which, in many cases are prone to be judged subjectively. Some of the guidelines for the CBFC, apart from ensuring that no part of the film is against the sovereignty or integrity of India, security, public order or decency, are as under:-

i) film has to be judged in its entirety and in the light of its overall impact;
ii) the film should provide healthy entertainment, recreation and be educative;
iii) should not have the effect of depraving the morality of the audience;
iv) should be responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of Society;
v) should have aesthetic value and
vi) should not tend to encourage, justify or glamorize consumption of liquor, tobacco or drugs.

3. The values and mores in the Indian Society are very complex and subject to regional variations. Besides, there are differences in choices at individual and collective levels. People tend to apply different standards to judge what happens to them and what happens to others. If there were to be a happening in a family which violates a social taboo, the first concern of the family is to put a veil over it so that information about it remains confined within the family. Yet such happenings when portrayed in films with dramatized details are lapped up as entertainment. There are people who go to the extent of disowning or even murdering their kin for straying from particular norms of their social circle yet they are game to see in films such things being done by other people.

4. What would a family not do to a teacher or even the whole school when they find that their minor or teen ward’s teacher is sexually wooing or enticing their ward.(Such incidents have happened in real life with dire consequences for those involved). Yet there is a hue and cry going on against the denial of certification to a film with such a theme by the CBFC. To invoke the constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression has become a fashion today, with the proviso regarding reasonable restrictions being conveniently forgotten.

5.The CBFC has a mandate to ensure that a film should not tend to deprave the morality of the audience, should have aesthetic value and should provide healthy entertainment and be educative. In order to be able to fulfill this mandate, it has been customary for the Board to suggest some cuts. If the power of the Board to demand cuts is withdrawn as is being suggested by some parties, the only alternative left would be to deny certification altogether in cases where infringement of guidelines is involved. This will be a far more expensive and frustrating move for the producers.

6.A suggestion has been floated, particularly by the advocates of freedom of speech and expression, that it should be left to the audience to judge a film. If they find it worthy, the film will run, if not they will reject it. This is an illogical suggestion and also overlooks the role of certain human instincts. In the first place, a person has to see the film to decide whether it is worthy or not, so rejection can come only after seeing the film. Secondly, a film that artfully or otherwise includes enticing sexual scenes or of crime is sure to attract a large audience.

7. I think it has to be recognised that a whole lot of adults, let alone teens, are impressionable and liable to be influenced by films in their way of life. It is not uncommon to come across cases of crime in real life whose techniques are learnt by watching films or TV serials. It is not for nothing that law or rules require media and manufacturers of products to carry warnings like “smoking is dangerous” etc. Apparently it is recognised that such things cannot be left to the judgement of the consumer.

8. It appears that the Government is planning to modify the guidelines for CBFC to make them more acceptable to film producers and exhibitors. I think the basics of the present guidelines are quite sound and Government must keep in view the role of the films in influencing course of events in real life.

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