NH 10, Titli, Angry Indian Goddesses... more than 10 released movies faced the wrath of censorship last year. Along with big movie stars, the censor board also remained in news and with the release of movies like Kya Kool Hain Hum 3’ and Mastizaade, the trend continued. The recent rise in intellectual cinema and independent filmmaking has brought diverse viewpoints to the industry and their acceptance being a major issue. The filmmakers have now raised serious doubts on the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The track record of the government body which aims “to clean the Indian cinema” isn’t untainted itself. In 2014, Rakesh Kumar, the then CEO, was arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe to clear a Chhattisgarhi film. This was followed by the resignation of Leela Samson as chairperson of the board and 13 board members over clearance of Messenger of God featuring Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. They blamed the government for treating the board in a dismissive manner.
Samson was succeeded by Pahlaj Nihalani, who made the BJP campaign video “Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi”. Nihalini’s determination to “clean the Indian cinema” can be clearly seen by his step to resurrect a 2003 list of “objectional words/abusive words” in Hindi and in English and sought to impose their immediate ban in films. Nihalani openly claims to be a proud BJP man and calls Narendra Modi his “action hero”.
Currently, many filmmakers have complained about suggested cuts by the CBFC. Movies like NH 10 and Titli had to mute several cuss words despite getting an ‘A’ certificate. A kissing scene was shortened in the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, and the CBFC examining committee asked the makers of Angry Indian Goddesses to mute a scene that reffered a man being a woman’s lunch and also to blur the visuals of goddesses Lakshmi and Kali.
All these past and present controversies paint a very indefinite picture of the board and its system. To be specific, this is how the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) works:
The Board comprises up to 25 members and 60 advisory panel members from across India, all of whom are appointed by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry. The CEO is chiefly in charge of administrative functions, and regional officers are part of the examining committees that
Upon receiving an application for certification, an examining committee is appointed by the regional officer. In the case of short films, it consists of a member of the advisory panel and an examining officer, one of whom must be a woman. In other cases, the committee consists of four members of the advisory panel and an examining officer, including two women. The decision on certification – unrestricted public exhibition (U), parental guidance for children below age 12 (U/A), Adult (A) or viewing by specialised groups (S) – is made by the regional officer based on the majority report of the Examining Committee. If the committee fails to make a unanimous decision, the case rests with the chairperson. List of “suggested cuts” is shared with the applicants, if the latter refuse to accept the certificate.
The applicant can, therefore, apply to the Revising Committee, which has the chairperson and up to nine committee members, a mix of the Board and the Advisory. No advisory panel member who has viewed the film can be included. A similar process is followed at this stage too, with the final verdict resting with the chairperson. In case of persisting dissatisfaction with the certification, the matter goes to an independent Appellate Tribunal, whose members are appointed by I&B for a term of three years. Any further dispute goes to court.
The censor board cites an archaic and almost non-relevant cinematography act of 1952 with vague guidelines to shun “vulgar” ideas and “controversial” films. On paper, CBFC’s role in filtering films that are “against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence,” looks perfect. However, the act’s inability to clearly define the meaning and extent of the terminologies mentioned is where the problem begins. This is further aggravated by the fact that this decision is taken at the final discretion of the Chairman, who may act out of his own whims, fancies and idea of what constitutes ‘moral’ and “immoral”. Worse, there is no guarantee if that would reflect the public sentiment in general.
The opinion of a selected flock and their partial act of winnowing disturb today’s filmmakers. “The now critically acclaimed movie Titli needed three long years and the support of a major banner like Yash Raj to make it to the big screen,” says Shayak Roy, a screenplay writer. “It all boils down to big banners, movie like Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 got through easily because it comes under Ekta Kapoor banner. Small artist or independent filmmakers would never think of making a porn flick.” Talking about the biased system he says, “I am not against movies like Mastizaade but my only concern is that it got through the censor board without any ruckus, whereas movies like ‘Titli’ had to struggle for years, this clearly shows how biased the system is.”
Contrary to Shayak’s view Srivathsan, a movie reviewer in one of the leading daily newspapers in the country says, “At times movies are made on real life instances which can hurt sentiments of a particular section of the society. To prevent any kind of communal or regional tension, the board prefers to take some preemptive measures and curb down the controversial part in the movie.”
While some debate on the selection process of the board, some believe that the law is truly old for the modern filmmaking, “Cinema has changed and so have the people of this country. People in this age are more aware. They demand real cinema and welcome change. Primitive laws limit the freedom of expression and, therefore, limit creativity,” said Ramananda Sarkar, ex-FTII student.
Kya Kool Hain Hum 3 earned Rs 8.15 crore on Friday but the box office collection dipped badly on Saturday and lost all its audience to the much critically acclaimed, Airlift. Imposing hidden agendas in the name of compulsive censorship and giving preference to the major banners isn’t the way an organ of a democratic government works. We have seen a giant leap in terms of quality cinema in recent years and the credit share isn’t only for the giant banners to take.