It’s time the industry and the CBFC called a truce and focused on finding a solution suited to the times we live in – a time when access to pretty much anything on the Internet, make the rules that govern artistic expression look archaic
The relationship between filmmakers and the authorities in-charge of certifying films as being fit for public consumption, has always been fraught with tension that often blows into a full-blown controversy.
So if Udta Punjab made national news recently, for its run-ins with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), it was only following in the path traversed previously by films like Garam Hawa and Aandhi over four decades ago. In fact, it probably got away lighter than what the 1977 film Kissa Kursi Ka had to endure, which was not only banned by the powers-that-be but also had its master print and copies destroyed!
However, today’s India lives in a radically changed environment compared to earlier generations. When almost 500 crore Indians can access any kind of content through the Internet, as can 225 crore Indians on their smartphones, it seems not only restrictive but also discriminatory to subject films to an elaborate and mandatory revisionary exercise, post the scrutiny by the CBFC.
The grouse against the cuts and certificates given by the CBFC is not just a principled defence of ideals such as freedom of expression and artistic rights. It has a direct commercial bearing, with an ‘A’ certificate automatically excluding a very substantial chunk of the potential theatrical audience. It also drastically reduces (if not completely eliminates it) the potential satellite rights valuation.
Besides, filmmakers often have issues with other matters relating to film censorship like the processes and timelines involved, a perceived arbitrariness in taking decisions and lack of transparency in their functioning.
To be fair, the central government seems to have recognised that there is a problem and that it needs to be fixed. Early this year, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting appointed a very credible committee headed by senior filmmaker Shyam Benegal to provide recommendations to overhaul film censorship in India. The committee has already submitted its report and it remains to be seen what action will be taken, and when, to usher in a new censorship regime that delivers the stated mandate of the whole exercise: to ensure that ‘artistic creativity and freedom do not get stifled/curtailed’ and that ‘the film industry is given sufficient and adequate space for creative and aesthetic expression’.
In this section of our seventh anniversary issue, we have asked industries voices to talk their minds. How can we make the process smooth while not compromising on the filmmaker’s creativity and vision? How can it be a win-win situation for all of us? Read on:
Head of Marketing, Reliance Entertainment
Our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression but there are certain restrictions when it comes to morality, decency, public behaviour etc. This is somewhat reflective of our film certification board and its policies. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (often referred to as the Censor Board), as the name suggests, is tasked with certifying films. It usually does a great job until there is heavy ‘censoring’, leading to a creative compromise, thus dampening the prospects of a film at the box office. And as the debate rages on who decides what is right? With no clear winners in sight, the question is: is it really all that hard to arrive at a solution?
Two obvious thoughts come to mind as immediate and long-term solutions. Can we not self-regulate on the lines of satellite programming? All TV content (except films, again) do not have to go through the censorship or certification processes. The body decides for itself what is good to show to the consumer.
The other is to abolish ‘censorship’ altogether but at the same time arm the certification body with more age-specific categories. If implemented, that would take care of India. However, whether we like it or not, the issue is not restricted to India alone. Our films go through a similar and sometimes even more stringent censor process in the overseas markets and we don’t seem to mind that as much. But before we get there, we must lock-in a solid, long-term solution, which ensures that our content reaches the right audience without a creative compromise domestically, to begin with. And if we believe either of the two solutions is good to go, now is the time to pursue it.
COO, Salman Khan Films
The problem is our censor board and the laws that govern it are archaic. We need to legislate and update our laws. It’s quite a paradox – while we accept that no one can censor the Internet and live with all the adult and violent content that’s accessible at a click of a button, whether on a computer or on a mobile phone, we believe we need a ‘censor board’ to police filmmakers and audiences on what they can watch in cinemas and on television.
Our board’s rating of U /UA and A is outdated; it doesn’t recognise that we need a more fluid rating system that lets adults make choices regarding what they want to watch and what they’re OK to let their children watch. The rating process itself is unclear; some films fly under the radar while others are made an example of.
So unlike the certification boards in the UK or the US, where classification is based on clear guidelines, our certification guidelines are unclear and at the mercy of the board. Udta Punjab is a recent example, where the board almost jeopardised the film’s release for no apparent reason and it was only when the courts intervened that the film released.
The court clearly limited the role of the board to certification, not censorship but we are still to see that change. The industry is awaiting Shyam Benegal’s report on this – it’s great that the I&B Ministry has picked a filmmaker with his experience and vision to rework how the censor board functions and the hope is we’ll have a fair and robust rating system that is more aligned with the world we live in, and not one which treats films like a juvenile delinquent that needs to be made an example of every now
Partner & Leader
Entertainment & Media
Much has been said and written in the recent past about the role of the Central Boar of Film Certification (CBFC), in relation to certification of movies and the standards and criteria applied. It is a debate not unique to India (other countries too have had their share of ‘controversies’), and it would be unwise to think that any significant level of clarity being brought to the law would mitigate such controversies in future (consider the example of the recent  Gawker case in the US, especially in light of the Larry Flint case , though it was not a matter in the domain of movies).
The fundamental issue that one has to consider is the apparent (and in a sense, real) conflict between freedom of expression/free speech (which in its ambit includes the freedom of artistic expression, whether literary, painting, sculpture, movies etc) and the apparent boundaries sought to be imposed for the appropriate functioning of a thriving civil society (ie maintaining public order, decency and morality, restricting defamation or court or commission of violence, fostering friendly relations with foreign states and maintaining national integrity).
So, as an example, would anti-war protestations (as witnessed during the Vietnam and Iraq wars) be seen as freedom of expression or should they be seen as anti-national? Let me take a more benign example to make a point (again not in the domain of films): a building is an expression of architectural freedom of expression. So when the Eiffel Tower was first constructed, it was seen to be repulsive and there was a huge public outcry calling for its demolition. Should it have been? Well, time has since suggested otherwise!
Also, one is all-too-familiar with the struggles that Vladamir Nabokov’s book Lolita went through with its publication, and subsequently the level of subtlety that Stanley Kubrick had to employ during the time of the Hollywood Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency, in adapting the book to the movie by the same name [much before Hollywood moved to a self-policing ratings system]. The recent cinematic versions of Lolita are far more explicit.
So, the point is, at an overall level where the Indian Cinematograph Act, 1952 allows the Board to refuse certification where it is seen to cross the ‘boundaries’ explained above, the obvious issue is the ensuing debate in respect of what such boundaries are and who is to decide them. And such boundaries will keep on shifting over the course of time.
So it is natural to expect these tussles to continue, and an appropriate way to resolve such disputes would be to have a robust system of redressal or arbitration. One could reduce, though not eliminate, such instances by having adequate representation on the Board, of people belonging to the artistic fraternity, and representation of people from all walks of life including child and women welfare body.
Once it is clear that a film does not breach the boundaries set, one does have to deal with the audience appropriate certification for the film. There is some case to be made as to whether one needs to move beyond the current U, U/A and A classes of certification. Lets looks at a few countries:
Singapore: G; PG; NC16; M18; R18; R21
Japan: G; PG12; R15+; R18+
UK: Uc; U; PG; 12A; 12; 15; 18; R18
US: Self-policing through MPAA – G; PG; PG13; R; NC-17.
As one can see from the above, there is a good argument as to why India can have a higher number of levels of certifications. What also helps is, as in the case of the UK, that the certification category is explained in detail in respect of what it connotes. I prefer the US system, which provides additional details beyond the rating, in terms of categorisation of language, nudity, sexual situations, violence and drug abuse in the film, which allows the viewer to make an appropriate
Again, even in the certification process, there can be room for interpretation, and a robust mechanism has to be established for the applicant to ‘seek’ a particular level of certification, and for the Board to agree, and in case of disagreement provide its own recommended status, and alternatives for amends to the scenes to reach the status sought by the applicant.
It is here that one needs to step back and consider the overall environment that is evolving for content consumption, even in respect of films that can now be viewed on mediums and through channels other than the big screen. Though the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides for penalties in respect of allowing transmission of ‘inappropriate’ content in electronic form, it still does not regulate the viewer, since that cannot get policed. So when one is considering certification standards one needs to be mindful of the evolving environment of access to content.
However, I do believe that where control can be exercised through regulations, for rightful purposes, such endeavour should not be abandoned merely due to potential slippages through other forum. The Legislature does bear a greater responsibility for ensuring promotion of civil betterment and liberties (even if private citizens choose to function otherwise).
But such an endeavour cannot be devoid of recognition and realisation of the realities and the contours of such realities / appropriateness, and that standards of civil betterment and liberties do change over a period a time. It would not be a bad idea to put in a mechanism for periodic review (say once every five years) of the certification categories, standards and other processes associated with it.
Also, how such certification should operate for content shown on other mediums should also evolve over a period of time whether on satellite channels (presently existing to some degree), DVDs (rated based on cinematic releases, but there could be provision for versioned release for DVDs), over the internet (difficult to implement).
All said and done, this is an evolving process and will, due to the inherent nature of the matter, be subject to pulls and pushes from the legislature, the existing governing dispensation, the civil society and the private citizen. It would hence be worthwhile to have a process that accommodates such pulls and pushes.
Director, Sales, Sony Pictures Entertainment, India
Since the dawn of mass media, many countries have attempted to regulate, control, or even block certain messages or content from being exhibited to their citizens at large. Today, most democratic countries are primarily interested in “classifying” (as opposed to “censoring”) media products --especially movies – into age-appropriate categories.
The result has been the formation of various movie-rating boards and offices which typically advise, and often enforce their decisions through legislation, as to what ages may see a particular title. It is a misconception in India that film certification is an anachronism of the democratic ethos of the country and it is India-specific. Nothing can be farther from truth. Film certification or classification is prevalent in almost all countries of the world in different forms and different level of participation of the government or the civil society.
A motion picture rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating is called a certification. This is designed to help parents decide whether a movie is suitable for their children.
Yet, the effectiveness of these systems is widely disputed. Also, in some jurisdictions, a rating may impose on movie theatres the legal obligation of refusing the entrance of children or minors to the movie. Furthermore, where movie theatres do not have this legal obligation, they may enforce restrictions on their own.
Ratings are often given in lieu of censorship. In countries such as Australia, an official government body decides on ratings; in other countries, such as the United States, it is done by industry committees with no official government status. In most countries, however, films that are considered morally offensive have been censored, restricted or banned. Even if the film rating system has no legal consequences, and a film has not explicitly been restricted or banned, there are usually laws forbidding certain films, or forbidding minors to view them.
The influence of specific factors in deciding a rating varies from country to country. For example, in countries such as the US, films with strong sexual content are often restricted to adult viewers, whereas in countries such as France and Germany, sexual content is viewed much more leniently. On the other hand, films with violent content are often subject in countries such as Germany and Finland to high ratings and even censorship, whereas countries such as the US offer more lenient ratings to violent movies.
A film may be produced with a particular rating in mind. It may be re-edited if the desired rating is not obtained, especially to avoid a higher rating than intended. A film may also be re-edited to produce an alternate version for other countries.
The certification process in India is in accordance with The Cinematograph Act, 1952, The Cinematograph (certification) Rules, 1983, and the guidelines issued by the Central government u/s 5(B)
At present, films are certified under four categories:
a) U : for unrestricted public exhibition
b) UA : for Unrestricted Public Exhibition - but with a word of caution that Parental discretion required for children below 12 years
c) A : Restricted to adults
d) S : Restricted to any special class of persons
Currently, the entire local censorship process is under discussion to further streamline the already existing smooth mechanism. There is a belief that our censorship system should gradually migrate to more of a ratings system somewhat akin to the process in the US and other countries.
CEO, Dharma Productions
As we are all aware, we are seeing innumerable cases where films are being censored with high stringency. This is a serious issue for makers of films, as the stakes are very high for producers and studios and a delayed release can have detrimental impact on costs and recoveries.
There is a vast difference between certifying and censoring, and the job of the Central Board of Film Certification is to certify, not censor. The board is meant to classify films into various categories based on what it thinks is appropriate for the viewing audience, age-wise and otherwise.
We definitely need more categories to certify films. At present, we have only two-a below-18 category and an above-18 category. I think there was an example in the UK, where a new category of 12A was created for the film Spiderman against the original intended 12 certification, to ensure that children below 12 could also see the film along with an adult. because it had some violence even though it is aimed mainly at the youth. There are different levels of ‘adult’ content, and there are different levels of youth cinema as well.
Our board has to look at a film as a whole and in its context. It cannot pick a scene out of context and say ‘this is not okay’. So we definitely have to move towards certification and the I&B Ministry & Govt have to look into this by revamping the Cinematograph Act, and one is hopes to see a revised classification system in line with the practice followed by most countries of the world.
The problem is that we face double censorship. First, the CBFC behaves like a censor body, not a certification body and it is very whimsical. I mean, the censors leave so many loopholes that there are many grounds to take a film to court. Certification should be a guarantee, of sorts, that the film has not violated any laws. As long as we are not instigating violence and spreading hatred among communities, freedom of expression should be virtually guaranteed by the certification. There is too much moral policing, as well. Having said that, I am glad a film like Pink released. One has to give the censors credit for passing a mature film like Pink.
Also, there are suggestions being made that the number of categories for certification should increase and I agree. What I don’t agree with is that films with a certain kind of rating should not release in some areas. I am opposed to restricted viewing. I don’t see what we should complicate matters. The board’s job should end after it certifies a film.