Cinema is one of the most popular gateways of entertainment widespread all over the world. Even before the advent of globalization and technology and its consequent evolution to its present impact and outreach, cinema has been prevalent as a prominent art of expression and tool of influence in many forms like theatre, drama, shows and so on. With the development of civilization and its governments, in the modern world, we have such art in the digital form, that can be created virtually and accessed remotely; in such a scenario, we ought to have an updated outlook to look after it.
In a dynamic and diverse country like India, Cinema has its own popularity and significance. The history of Indian Cinema dates before independence and currently, there are a number of industries that work independently and produce films in different languages depicting respective cultures.
The digital era of Indian Cinema began with its first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, released in 1913. Seven years later, in 1920, the Indian Cinematograph Act was passed. A key step taken under this Act had been the establishment of Censor Boards in select towns; these Boards were managed by the respective city’s police chiefs. After independence, these regional Boards had been assimilated under the Bombay Board of Film Censors, which got renamed later as the ‘Central Board of Film Censors’ in 1952 and finally, the ‘Central Board of Film Certification’ in 1983.
THE CINEMATOGRAPH ACT
Along that line, in India, the Cinema is primarily governed by The Cinematograph Act, 1952 (hereinafter, ‘the Act’) which monitors and examines the films exhibited via cinematographs to the Indian society are within its tolerance of morality and temperament as per Articles 19(1) and 19(2) of the Constitution of India, considering which it has provisions for certifications and regulations of the films. The Act has undergone several amendments and revisions over the years to adapt to the changing views and needs of the film industry and society.
The Act lays down several provisions and guidelines for the certification process. A film will not be certified if any of its components are deemed to be against India’s sovereignty, integrity, security, good relations with other countries, or against the law and public decency. The Act prohibits films that involve defamation or contempt of court, or those that are likely to incite someone to commit a crime. The overall impact of the film, taking into consideration the time period depicted and prevailing societal norms, is also assessed to ensure that it does not deprive the audience of their morality.
The Act also empowers the Central government to suspend or revoke the certificate granted under Section 5A if a film is exhibited in contravention of the Act. Additionally, the Act further authorizes the police to conduct search and seizure operations in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, if a film is being exhibited in violation of the Act.
CENTRAL BOARD OF FILM CERTIFICATION
For its execution, the Cinematograph Act provides for the constitution of the Central Board of Film Certification, commonly known as the Censor Board or the CBFC. It is a statutory body, operating under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, that regulates the certification evaluation of films, ensuring that they are in accordance with the appropriate standards before being exhibited to the public. As per the Act, a film shall only be shown to the general audience if it has been certified by the CBFC.
The Act mandates the appointment of a Chairman and a team of individuals by the Central Government to assist the Chairman in carrying out the duties of the CBFC. The Board has the authority to request changes and deletions to a film before granting certification. If the necessary alterations are not made, the CBFC may refuse to allow the film to be publicly exhibited. While film certification falls under the jurisdiction of the Central Government, state governments are responsible for enforcing censorship within their respective domains. The CBFC is responsible for certifying films as suitable for family viewing, meaning they should be appropriate for all members of the family, including children.
The Act provides for a thorough examination of films by the CBFC scrutinizes films in their entirety and assesses them based on the contemporary standards of Indian society. Based on this examination, the Board can either grant certification or make a speaking order of rejection, following the principles of due process and natural justice. The certificate, when granted, or the rejection order is published in the Gazette of India and is valid for ten years.
CRITERIA FOR CERTIFICATION
The Act categorizes films into four different categories for certification:
- Universal (U): The U certificate is granted to films suitable for unrestricted public exhibition, including for families and children.
- Parental Guidance (U/A): The U/A certificate is given when the film contains material that requires advisory for parents or guardians to decide whether a child below the age of twelve should watch it.
- Adults Only (A): The A certificate restricts the film to adults above the age of 18, as it may contain content that could negatively influence or affect children.
- Restricted to a special class of persons (S): The S certificate is issued when the film's theme, nature, or content is suitable only for a specific class of persons or professions.
FILM CERTIFICATE APPELLATE TRIBUNAL
However, if a person is aggrieved by the Board’s decision, they can appeal to the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a quasi-judicial body, within thirty days. The FCAT, established in 1991, serves as a judicial body that hears appeals from individuals or parties who are dissatisfied with the CBFC’s decisions. It allows applicants to request a re-examination of a film's certification. The FCAT comprises members, including a Chairman who is usually a retired Supreme Court judge. However, it is worth noting that the Indian government has abolished the FCAT in 2021.
AMENDMENTS AND CONTROVERSIES
There have been other amendments proposed in 2021 that have sparked a debate on the autonomy of the media and government censorship for suggesting several changes:
- Subdividing the U/A category based on age into U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+.
- Empowering the Union government to direct the CBFC to reconsider a film’s certification if it believes the film does not conform to the “Guiding Principles” under Section 5B(1) of the Act. These principles include factors such as the interests of the state’s sovereignty and integrity, security, public order, decency, and morality.
- Adding a new section, 6AA, targeting piracy, with prescribed punishments and fines.
Critics of the amendments argue that they undermine the autonomy of the CBFC and give the government more control over film certifications. They also argue that the changes grant the government the power to censor films based on vague and subjective criteria, potentially stifling freedom of expression. The strictness of the CBFC’s operations has also been compared to other film classification boards in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, where the focus is primarily on age recommendations rather than suggesting revisions or cuts to films.
However, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has stated that the bill did not give the Ministry the power to censor films but only allowed for films to be returned for re-certification. However, critics remain sceptical and argue that the amendments still grant the government significant control and undermine the existing safeguards and autonomy of the CBFC.
Such a situation illustrates the need for a balanced approach to certifying and regulating films. While it is important to respect the sentiments of the public and avoid content that promotes sexism, communal hatred, extreme violence, or inappropriate portrayal of well-known figures, it is equally crucial to protect the right to free speech and expression. The Act should not be used as a tool for moral policing or suppressing dissenting voices. Instead, the focus should be on protecting universal values, prohibiting hate speech, and addressing issues like piracy and copyright violations.
In conclusion, while the Cinematograph Act, 1952 has undergone amendments over the years, its scheme and relevance in today’s society have been questioned. With the rise of online streaming platforms and informed audiences, the paternalistic approach of the censor board is being challenged. Censorship should be based on reasonable restrictions to uphold universal values, rather than subjective interpretations of morality. It is essential for India to move towards a more modern and balanced approach to film certification that respects the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression.
- TIMESOFINDIA.COM, 110 years of India’s first feature film Raja Harishchandra, TIMES OF INDIA, May 2 2023, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/110-years-of-indias-first-feature-film-raja-harishchandra/articleshow/99943210.cms#:~:text=You're%20reading&text=Raja%20Harishchandra%20is%20a%201913,in%20Mumbai%20(then%20Bombay).
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- Section 5B(1), The Indian Cinematography Act, 1952
- Part II, The Indian Cinematography Act, 1952
- Section 5D, The Indian Cinematography Act, 1952
- Ektaa Malik, Explained: The role, significance of film certification tribunal, now abolished, INDIAN EXPRESS, April 8 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/the-role-significance-of-film-certification-tribunal-now-abolished-7263409/
- Shreya Juyal, Explainer: What is the Cinematograph Act amendment that’s becoming a controversy now, DECCAN CHRONICLE, July 8 2021, https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/080721/explainer-cinematograph-act-amendment-all-that-you-need-to-know.html