Updated: April 10, 2021 8:46:35 am
With the abolition of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), an essential layer of redressal available to filmmakers aggrieved by decisions of the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) has been summarily done away with. While the stated intention behind the abolition may have been reform, under the Tribunal Reforms Ordinance 2021, which came into effect on April 4, its impact on already contentious practices of film certification could be disastrous.
All films meant for theatrical and television exhibition need a censor certificate from the CBFC. The fate of a film depends almost entirely on the composition of the panel. If the majority of members are averse to ideas that provoke and challenge, the film could be in for a large number of cuts, or even refused certification. The filmmaker is then left with few options, each involving precious time and money: She can ask for re-certification, in the hope of a more favourable verdict. Failing that, she could appeal to the Delhi-based FCAT, a statutory body which usually had at least one member from the film industry. Now, with the disbanding of the FCAT, the only recourse left to the filmmaker is to approach the high court. That path is strewn with difficulties. It assumes that the filmmaker is able to hire a lawyer, and get entangled in an already overburdened legal system. More problematically, it also assumes that judges and lawyers will have an informed view on film certification. Successive boards have been hobbled by a paucity of knowledge. The blatantly political appointees, placed on the board specifically to safeguard the government’s interest, usually ensure that the dictum of “when in doubt, cut out”, is followed blindly, without bringing any awareness of the changing times and mores to the table. This is precisely why, despite the formal change in nomenclature from the “Censor Board” to the “Central Board of Film Certification”, most members are unaware that their mandate is certification, not censorship.
The Cinematograph Act came into being in 1952. Over the years, attempts have been made at bringing much-needed changes in its guidelines. In the last decade, committees formed under Justice Mukul Mudgal and veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal have suggested changes. But given the choppy quality of existing certification, and a state not only unwilling to cede control but intent on increasing its heavy footprint in the realm of arts and ideas, it is not surprising that no real reform has taken place. The abolition of the FCAT leaves the filmmaker hanging perilously between the devil and the deep sea.
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