It is said that when in doubt the government sets up a committee. Under fire for the rampant vigilantism of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under its chief Pahlaj Nihalani, the I&B ministry has announced a panel to “provide a holistic framework” to those “tasked with the work of certification of films” and to eliminate “any kind of arbitrariness and discretion in the censorship process”. With a filmmaker like Shyam Benegal at the helm, this five-member panel is off to a credible start, its setting up a welcome admission by the government that all’s not well at the CBFC.
As CBFC chairman, Nihalani has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. He has repeatedly overstepped his brief by assuming the role of a censor when the CBFC is only meant to certify films. In a bid to impose his whimsical notions of Bharatiya sanskar and sabhyata, he has demanded arbitrary and intrusive cuts and edits. The CBFC, a product of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which represents the aesthetic and morality of a different time, needs radical revision in a world where the idea of state censorship has few takers. The consensus, worldwide, is that films, on which a lot of money rides, only need to be certified so that it is left to the viewer to decide what she and her children should watch.
The Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee in 2013 had inquired into similar issues and submitted a report after conducting extensive consultations with stakeholders. The panel gave recommendations on a host of issues, including certification and the selection of members to the CBFC, another contentious area since governments tend to use the board to disburse patronage. However, the UPA government refused to act on the recommendations in the report. The NDA government must ensure that the Benegal panel’s suggestions do not meet the fate of those of the Mudgal Committee.