Tempered victory

 MPost |  2016-06-15 21:56:39.0  |  New Delhi

The CBFC had initially sought 13 cuts to the film which included references to Punjab, expletives, and drug scenes among other things. The film has been scheduled for release on June 17. The court also raised questions about CBFC’s powers to censor movies as the word censor did not figure in the Cinematograph Act and said if cuts had to be made, those should be in consonance with the Constitution and directions of the Supreme Court.

 “Censor in common parlance means to certify a movie. Therefore, if by law the board is empowered to make changes, cuts or deletions, this power of the CBFC must be consistently in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Supreme Court directions,” Justice Dharmadhikari said. However, in a stirring column, noted Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Bhatia had argued how the Cinematograph Act, its guidelines, and the Censor Board are fundamentally at odds with our constitutional vision.

 “Our Constitution, the culmination of a decades-long struggle for political independence and civic freedom, is premised upon the belief — and the faith — that citizens are autonomous individuals, who make their own choices and take responsibility for them — whether it is in the political arena while exercising their right to elect their representatives, or in the cultural arena, in deciding which gods to worship, whom to associate with, and what to see, speak, or here,” Bhatia wrote.

 “The Cinematograph Act, its guidelines, and the censor board, by making the government the arbiter of what films are fit or unfit for citizens to see, on the assumption that the "wrong" kinds of films might lead them to form the wrong kinds of views or take the wrong kinds of actions, are fundamentally at odds with our constitutional vision.”

 The court was hearing a petition filed by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films challenging the CBFC order. The CBFC’s actions had triggered a political storm with Congress and AAP accusing the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab, which is going to polls next year, of using their influence to get it censored. 

The charge was denied by Punjab’s ruling alliance. Nonetheless, every ruling party has sought to manipulate the functioning of the CBFC for their own benefit. This column has argued that the CBFC’s role should be limited to certification rather than censorship. In other words, instead of limiting what characters could say or do on screen, the board needs to respect the intelligence of the cinema-going public. To placate the film industry after the CBFC's chairman's antics last year, the Centre had appointed the Shyam Benegal-led committee.

  In a positive development last week, Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley said that film certification in the country is set to go through "some very radical changes" which will be announced soon, based on the recommendations of the Benegal committee. Despite what some in the film fraternity may suggest, this judgment is not a victory for free speech and expression. The judges did agree to one cut, where the leading character urinates on the audience at a rock concert. One can hardly suggest that the judges are all for free creative expression.

 They did decide to draw the line somewhere. Meanwhile, it seems as if the CBFC is not willing to implement the Bombay High Court’s standards for creative expression for other films. In yet another move against free creative expression, the CBFC has suggested as many as 100 cuts to upcoming Gujarati film Salagto Sawaal Anamat (Burning Question of Reservation) that delves into the quota agitation in Gujarat.

 Apart from asking for cuts of all references to BR Ambedkar, the board also suggested that words like Patidar or Patel be removed from every scene, possibly in light of the recent Patel agitation for reservations.

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