Filmmakers have been up in arms against the Centre’s move to amend the Cinematograph Act to make it possible to re-examine a film after it was cleared by the Censor Board. After the Centre released the draft of the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021, Hansal Mehta, Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Vetrimaraan, Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi, among others, shot off an online letter to the government opposing some of the proposed amendments.
The letter said the move to revoke or recall certification of films cleared by the Censor Board would result in “undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court,” and “effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country, potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent.”
Led by the Producers Guild Of India, bodies like the Screen Writers Association, The Indian Film and Television Directors Association, Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association, Western India Film Producers Association and the Indian Film and Television Producers Council made a joint representation against the re-assessment clause which would allow the Union Government to ask the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to reassess a film. Some producers along with the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and south filmmaker Kamal Haasan also met a standing committee set up by the government on this issue.
Under the proposed amendment, film certificates, currently valid for ten years, will be valid for perpetuity. Stricter penalties have been mooted for piracy too. While welcoming these moves, the filmmakers said, “If a film is going for re-examining after it hits the screens imagine the kind of losses a filmmaker will have to go through.”
“What is the meaning of a censor certificate if the film can be re-examined on anybody’s complaint?” asks director Vishal Bhardwaj. Veteran producer and former CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani says the Cinematograph Act earlier had a clause giving the Central Government power to recall a film certified by the Board.
“This was challenged in a Karnataka court and had to be scrapped. But I do not think that a film will need to have a recertification because there are learned people on the board who have certified a film,” shares Nihalani. He feels the scrapping of the Appellate Tribunal also led to more problems. Filmmakers now have to go to court for redress, he points out.
“When I was the [CBFC] chairperson, the court informed me on the Udta Punjab issue that my job was to only certify. But later, when it came to Jolly LLB, the court asked for four cuts. The lack of uniformity is another issue,” he says.
“There have been bodies like the Mudgal Committee and the Shyam Benegal Committee which suggested reforms in the working of the CBFC in 2014 and 2016 and a lot of money was spent on them, but their recommendations have not been implemented,” adds Nihalani.
Interestingly, before Nihalani’s term, a Punjabi film called The Mastermind Jinda Sukha, glorifying two terrorists who killed General Arun Vaidya, was cleared by the Censor Board but was recalled during his term, reportedly at the behest of the Home Ministry.
“The film was passed. But when we received complaints from various sections of the society, we decided to review and revoke the certificate,” he explains.
The Shyam Benegal Committee was constituted during Nihalani’s tenure.
“We did not suggest recertification. Honestly, one should get rid of censorship or have a simple certification process. If one has to respect freedom of expression as well as self-expression, then recertification should not be done, as it is unconstitutional,” says Benegal.
“Re-certification will affect the creative minds of the director and his team and the financial status of the producer. The CBFC comprises competent people to certify. Then why should there be any recertification?” says Atul Mohan, Editor of Complete Cinema and a former member of the Board.
“As of now it is a Bill, but if it becomes an Act, it will affect filmmakers in a big way,” asserts Nitin Tej Ahuja, CEO of the Producers Guild of India.
Whether the government heeds the industry’s views and makes relevant changes before the Bill becomes an Act remains to be seen.