The tug of war between creative freedom and censorship began years ago. Not just in films, creative freedom is infringed upon in almost all spheres. We have seen authors being attacked for their words and films facing cuts, mutes and bans all the time. Some recent examples include Padmavati, Lipstick Under My Burkha, S Durga and Aabhasam.
The fight to retain the essence of the craft is an ongoing one. It was at this juncture, Dr Shashi Tharoor MP introduced a Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2018. “On Friday, I introduced my Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2018, to remove the outdated provisions which hamper the free flow of free speech, especially artistic freedom. The protection of artistic freedom is essential for the development of our culture & our democracy (sic),” his social media post reads.
He feels the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) should act only as a certification body and not as a censorship one. “Its censorship powers (& the Govt's power to revise its decisions as to whether a film should be screened or not) reflect a regressive and paternalistic outlook which is out of date in the 21st century. The existing guidelines for certification are broad & vague, allowing the CBFC to pass absurd orders such as muting individual words of dialogue, like the term ‘cow’ in a documentary on Amartya Sen. My Bill introduces comprehensive guidelines for gradation in film certification. My Bill also removes the discretionary powers of the State to ban films. The State should only resort to the power of suspension of films as a last resort in order to maintain public order. We should not be held hostage by vigilante groups & self-appointed 'moral police'. #EndCensorship (sic),” it reads further.
Those who work in the industry agree it is a good move and should have been implemented long ago. At the same time, they doubt whether it would be passed, especially in the current political climate and fear whether it is just another political gimmick.
“It is a good move, but he has introduced it at a time when there is no scope for implementation,” says Kannan Nayar, who acted in S Durga, a movie that had come under the scissors of the censor board. “He could have raised it when censorship was a burning issue. He had tweeted about it, but didn’t make a strong move. But it is better late than never,” Kannan says.
Saijo Kannanaikal, director of Kathakali, a movie that was denied certification due to nude scenes, doesn’t believe the CBFC would change its mind. “His stance is welcoming but whether it would make any impact other than creating news is doubtful. It is because CBFC is just a barking dog of the government. Its existence is entangled with forces such as politics and religion. Earlier another committee had put forward an amendment suggestion, but nothing happened. In the case of CBFC, only the chairmen change, but the system remains the same,” he says. It is censorship that they oppose, not certification. “The duty of the censor board is not to point out the fault in the dialogues of a character or dressing of a character. The board is there to certify the film and certify it U, A or U/A, according to its content. They don’t have the right ask us to cut a scene or mute a dialogue and come back,” says Jubith, Namradath, director of Aabhasam. “A character’s dialogue is not the filmmaker’s opinion. That dialogue
is given there because the filmmaker wants to show that there are people who talk like this. The maker is giving a raw account of what the character would say at that particular moment rather than what he/she should say. It is nonsensical to ask for scenes to be cut or a movie, which is a collective effort, to be banned. One has the right to watch it or not to watch it. Nobody should be given the right to censor a film,” feels Jubith.
Kannan Nayar concurs. “Certification is fine. It directs the audience whether to watch a film or not. But when someone says not to watch it at all, it is an infringement of freedom of expression. If the censor board follows the current Act, it can only do certification. But it moves away from that and censors the content, which is wrong. Now, the situation has worsened to such an extent that nothing can be written.”
Film critic C.S. Venkiteswaran is of opinion that the whole Cinematograph Act should be scrapped. “Whatever we have now is redundant sort of colonial legislation. I think it needs to be revised or scrapped altogether. You can’t treat people like children. They have the conscience to understand what is good and bad,” he says and adds, “As a society, there will be different kind of narratives. That is democracy, right? The question is whether our society democratic enough to allow all voices. Considering the current political scenario, I wonder whether they would approve the current bill. They will give some reason to hold it,” he says.
(With inputs from Vanessa Viegas)
What CBFC said
“I am the oldest member of this board for the last four years. I’ve survived Pahlaj Nihalani’s time and I’ve always said that certification is the way forward for CBFC in India. Cinema is a very deeply impacting medium in our country, its treated as a second religion just as cricket is. You may say The Cinematograph Act is redundant because it’s a 1952 act, even I thought the same. But after years of being through the process, I think it also depends upon what is the level of maturity of the person who is certifying the film and I’ll tell you what that means. Right now the board comprises of people from theater and cinema. So right now there is a deep understanding of the subject. You can see the way CBFC handled Padmaavat, and Veere Di Wedding. So freedom of expression isn’t a monolith, in a democracy freedom of speech comes with a responsibility and that responsibility is more societal. I have categorically said in the past that we have no business to censor films. We are a certification board and we must certify films. But when you certify a film, what is it that you look at? You look at what is the social influence of that film. What is the age group that is deemed necessary to see the film. Why do we have a certification board in France, America and in countries, which proclaim absolute freedom of speech? We have a certification body there because cinema comes with societal concerns. Content consumed in the palm is different from public consumption. So I’ll be very happy if the act gets amended, if the parliament has a position on it, its fantastic. The Shyam Benegal committee report also recommended that, but I think the present board is doing a great job in creating an understanding and a collaborative approach between those who are making content and those who are consuming it.”
— Vani Tripathi Tikoo, CBFC board member...