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DURING the panel discussion titled ‘Censorship Woes: M&E’s Battle Against a Thousand Cuts’ on the second day of annual FICCI Frames, veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal made it clear that no matter what people believed, the laws dictating censorship had to lie within constitutional limits. “Freedom goes only as far as to not impinge upon another person’s freedom. In a country as large and diverse as India, you can’t have a situation in which everything is allowed. There are bound to be different kinds of things that are not acceptable to one group or another. We just have to find the golden mean,” he said.
Last year, Benegal headed a committee that attempted to lay down norms for film certification in India. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, however, is yet implement its report. The Shyam Benegal Committee, which consisted of members like Kamal Haasan, filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and ad-man Piyush Pandey among others, in its report talks about a holistic approach towards the certification of films and incorporates creative and artistic freedom. Benegal talked about his committee’s recommendations at FICCI Frames, which is Asia’s largest business conclave for media and entertainment (M&E), while director Anupam Sharma, secretary general of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council Ashish Sinha, and director Vishesh Bhatt discussed the ways censorship guidelines affect their work.
“The issue of censorship has been going on since 1956,” said Bhatt. “It seems that this conversation doesn’t move forward. Meanwhile, we’re being told to be more ‘quiet’ when our bread and butter is artistic expression. In the interim between Benegal’s guidelines being implemented as law, we are the ones who are suffering.” According to Sharma, the problem doesn’t only lie with the implementation. “Even if the guidelines are implemented, what will their execution be?,” he asked. “Even now, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) makes cuts indiscriminately.”
An even bigger hurdle might lie with the people’s expectations. “Most people don’t understand the importance of cultural expression. Censorship is just a by-product of that,” said Bhatt. “We’re just preaching to the choir,” said Sharma. “Where are the CBFC representatives here?” Comedian Tanmay Bhat, who was moderating the panel, suggested that a more dramatic gesture by filmmakers was needed to break the impasse.
On the first day of FICCI Frames, Uday Shankar, STAR India Chairman and CEO who is also the chairman of FICCI’s Media & Entertainment Committee, had said that even as India was celebrating rapid growth, he perceived censorship as a “disturbing trend”. He also added that it posed an impediment for the growth of creative talent in the country.