The Shyam Benegal panel has been given the onerous task of “recommending a holistic framework for the country’s film censor board, and to suggest changes in the Cinematograph Act of 1952, so that artistic creativity and freedom are not curtailed”. In a sense, a filmmaker is the wrong choice for such a task as it is akin to putting a bank robber on the security committee to draw up safety guidelines, more so since Benegal is put off by the very thought of picking up a pair of scissors. The logic of the veteran filmmaker — that there should be no censorship, only a certification board — is compelling, but the older generation might find it difficult to accept in the Indian milieu. Too often commercial interests may demand the excessive use of sex, violence, vulgarity, double entendre and plain old bad taste to cater to diverse audiences.
To bring in subtle controls is a tricky task which artistic minds must tackle to set right what have been depredations against art in the moral policing regime of an excessively censorious chairman who brought a bad name to the routine of film censorship. The James Bond kiss that was barely to be seen in Spectre in India was the ultimate artistic embarrassment. Even so, the idea of there being no censorship is, perhaps, a bridge too far for India even if we have to soon give up the very concept of deciding what others should be watching. Also, what young people are watching on their mobile phones and devices from the Internet might shock Messrs Nihalani and company. The very thought carries its own lesson on the futility of censorship in this day and age. The excesses were headlined by the censors stringing together a lexicon of “cuss” words to be put on a ban list; this only suggests that something needs to be done to excise these interventions in the artistic freedom of expression.
The mood is such the panl may come out with suggestions on just certification so that artistic expression is not trammelled. It would be interesting to see if the Centre would accept the dismantling of cinema censorship so that audiences may determine what they wish to see. The UK norms tend to come in age classifications these days and policing this may pose problems here. But, as said earlier, what really is the point of censorship when everything is accessible on the Net? Maybe a certification board would satisfy the filmmakers’ yearning for freedom and the cinemagoers’ freedom of choice. There is always the hope Indian society will mature.