Ever since eminent filmmaker Shyam Benegal has been tasked with fixing the workings of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the mood in the industry has been optimistic. Filmmakers and board members appear to be welcoming the winds of change, especially after weathering the storm over the past year, where the board, under its chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani, got repeatedly mired in controversies for making demands that were deemed unreasonable by filmmakers.
The New Year began on a good note when a meeting was held on January 9 between Benegal and his committee and Union minister for Information & Broadcasting Arun Jaitley and minister of state for Information & Broadcasting Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore. The agenda was to arrive at some broad guidelines for certification of films by the CBFC. Piyush Pandey, member of the Benegal committee, who was present at the meeting, remained tight-lipped about it. “I am glad the meeting happened so early but it’s very premature to reveal anything at this stage as nothing concrete has been decided yet. Maybe in a month’s time we will be able to arrive at a set of guidelines,” he said.
Benegal in an earlier interview spoke about why he feels there shouldn’t be a censor board in a democracy.
“The tragedy of censorship in our country is that often, personal biases and prejudices come in the way of evaluating films for the Indian audience. As you know, the Indian audience is extremely diverse. You can’t really categorise them and say, ‘This is your audience.’ Also, the gulf between the urban and non-urban, the metropolitan and non-metropolitan audience…the guidelines of the censor board are too rigid to be applied to this diverse audience,” he said. Speaking of a desired way forward, Benegal added, “I would rather have gradation than censorship whereby audiences are told that a film may not be suitable for someone below 16 or 18, that it may be suitable for a more mature audience. Why cut up a film? Britain allows its audience to make up its mind about what to see. The idea of using scissors to cut up a filmmaker’s work is a disturbing one,” he said.
Benegal is not the first one to suggest a system of gradation, points out CBFC member Nandini Sardesai. The debate has been on from the time when Sharmila Tagore was the acting chairperson of the CBFC. “The board is there to certify films. But sometime things might be suitable for a 30-year-old and not for an 11-year-old. So a U/A rating includes too large a range of viewers. Tagore had put the idea forward to include 15+, 18+ categories but nothing happened.” Speaking of the current committee, Nandini adds, “Shyam Benegal is a very liberal person, he has been anti-censorship from Day One. He will definitely suggest we move with the times. I hope whatever he recommends is implemented. Because if it happens, it will be a reform.”
The U/A certificate is a grey area, according to filmmaker Vinil Mathew, and it’s something that needs to be changed immediately. “What it means, nobody knows. In effect, it’s pretty much the same as a ‘U’ rating. As Mr. Benegal says, the gradation system allows for more categories and a clear roadmap to certify films. Filmmakers already know what section of the audience they are targeting. Categories such as 12+, 14+, 16+ are already used abroad. So having it on paper here will eliminate a lot of confusion and controversy,” Vinil says. The filmmaker also feels the system need to be made as less discretionary as possible. “There should be a set of appointees who are actually related to filmmaking, acting or sociology. Currently, the panel that actually reviews a film has many random appointees. The ones on the panel need to be more responsible and knowledgeable. That’s half the problem solved.”
Film critic Mayank Shekhar questions the nature of CBFC itself, as a “censuring” committee. He says, “I don’t know at what point the CBFC, which is a certification committee, became a censoring body. What we need to do now is go back in time. If you think about it, it’s only now that the problems with the censor board have become a topic of everyday discussion. Even two years ago, this wasn’t a pressing matter. Now, sadly the decision making process has become very arbitrary.” Mayank too is all for a system of gradation as suggested by Benegal. “We need to bring the system back to normalcy and then think of reforming it. The most basic question we need to discuss is whether censorship of any form is needed or not. There’s no censorship on the Internet or in newspapers or radio. So then why just films? The other media seem to be getting along quite well without it. So what’s the need for it? These days our censorship policies have become a laughing stock globally. So the first thing we need to do is get back to normalcy,” he adds.