Having faced adverse publicity over several decisions taken by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) last year, the government stepped in Friday and set up a committee headed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal to recommend measures to “provide a holistic framework and enable those tasked with the work of certification of films to discharge their responsibilities keeping in view this framework”.
The committee will include filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, adman Piyush Pandey, journalist and film critic Bhawana Somaaya, National Film Development Corporations’s MD Nina Lath Gupta and Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s Joint Secretary (Films) K Sanjay Murthy. It will submit its recommendations within two months.
Government sources said the move is meant to eliminate any kind of arbitrariness and discretion in the censorship process.
The CBFC has found itself at the centre of several controversies over censorship and cuts made to films ever since Pahlaj Nihalani took over as its chairperson. It was criticised for making several “cuts” in the film Spectre, “blurring some visuals” in the movie Angry Indian Goddesses, and removing curses and certain expressions from other films. That many CBFC members opposed Nihalani’s decisions openly did not help matters.
One of the key mandates of the committee would be to recommend “broad guidelines” and “procedures” under provisions of the Cinematograph Act and Rules “for the benefit of the chairperson and other members of the Screening Committee”.
The committee will also look into the “staffing pattern of CBFC” in an effort to recommend a framework which would provide efficient, transparent and user-friendly services, the I&B Ministry said Friday.
“During their deliberations, the committee would be expected to take note of the best practices in various parts of the world, especially where the film industry is given sufficient and adequate space for creative and aesthetic expression,” the ministry said.
Acknowledging that there is a “mechanism” or “process” to certify feature films and documentaries “in most countries”, the government said that it, however, “has to be ensured that in doing so, artistic creativity and freedom do not get stifled/curtailed and the people tasked with the work of certification understand these nuances”.
The government said that “Indian films have glorious history” and “a whole lot of Indian films have enriched the cultural milieu of the country, besides making astonishing advances in technical aspects of filmmaking” — and it is keeping in mind this view and in sync with the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that this committee has been constituted to “suggest the paradigm for ensuring such a milieu”.
Indications that the government was planning to step in to solve problems plaguing the CBFC were evident recently when Union I&B Minister Arun Jaitley talked about having a “look at the role” of the body so as to make it “controversy-free”.
While the government maintains that the CBFC is an autonomous organisation, there appears to be a growing realisation that its actions are adversely affecting the government’s image, which made the I&B Ministry step in.
When contacted, Benegal told The Indian Express that Minister of State for I&B Rajyavardhan Rathore had spoken to him a couple of days ago to discuss whether he would be interested in being part of a committee to look into what ails the CBFC. “But I have not been officially informed about it yet. I would want to know what the mandate for me and this committee is, what’s the agenda and what the government wants me to do,” Benegal said.