Updated: June 30, 2021 7:50:44 am
The draft of the new Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 reveals a depressing old script — a state in a hurry to grab the role of a super censor. Not surprisingly, representatives of film industries have raised the red flag. In a letter to the information and broadcasting ministry, a group of filmmakers and artistes have reminded the government that the remit of the Central Board of Film Certification is not censorship — but the work of certifying films for public exhibition. The proposed law pushes the project of official censoriousness of cinema in a worrying direction. It empowers the Centre to revoke a certificate granted to a film by the CBFC, if it is found to violate Section 5 B (1) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which discourages certifying a film that is “against the interests of [the sovereignty and integrity of India] the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.” The film fraternity has rightfully demanded that this provision, which turns the Centre into a super-censor, be withdrawn. In a climate of competitive and puritanical nationalism, the fear that social media outbursts will lead to censorship by the mob and abuse of government power is not far-fetched. The move also goes against a 2000 Supreme Court order, which had upheld a Karnataka HC decision striking down revisionary powers of the government over CBFC orders.
In recent years, several films, from Padmaavat to Udta Punjab, have been held hostage to the “offended honour” of communities and clans. While governments have caved in to mobs willing to use violence to wrest victory in these culture wars, the courts have stepped in to protect the filmmaker’s right to freedom of expression. The apprehension that the certification regime is moving to a more restrictive mode has also gained ground with the Centre summarily disbanding the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which allowed filmmakers a forum of redressal if the CBFC denied them a certificate.
The roots of “censorship” of cinema in India are colonial, as the British believed that natives had to be protected from the destabilising influence of the mass medium. The infantilising of citizens and the trust in a moral censoriousness continued well after Independence, though over the years the scales have tilted. Committees headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal and Shyam Benegal have recommended moving to a regime of no-snips-and-cuts. The film fraternity’s concerns that the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 undoes those gains must be addressed — and redressed.
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