This article is from Open Magazine.
By Adoor Gopalakrishnan
The recent controversy over the Censor (Film Certification for all appearances) Board being overruled by the appellate authority in the case of a film has raised many issues and questions about the very relevance of film censorship.
It was not long ago, when a film of mine was presented at a festival in Europe, that a member of the audience got up to ask during the post-screening Q&A if India were still under British Rule. Perked by the query, I asked him why he would ask such a question, since we became independent of the British way back in 1947. He was forthright: it was the Censor certificate shown in the beginning that prompted the question.
Unfortunately, India is one of the very few democratic countries that practises censorship of films. In fact, censorship of any kind -- be it literature, painting, theatre, television, music -- is vehemently opposed by the free thinking world outside.
Our constitution provides for the freedom of and right to expression to individuals and institutions within the broad outlines of decency and public interest. In the blind adherence to censorship from colonial days, one can discern an infringement of the rights of citizens of a free democratic Republic -- the largest one in the world to boot.
It takes little effort to realise that the very functioning of the Censor Board is extra-constitutional. Instead of doing away with it, successive governments at the Centre keep endowing it with more and more authority to enforce public health warnings and screen intimidating spot advertisements.
Films have now become a broad plastered wall for the Government in power to stick uncensored warnings and reminders about diseases. The unsuspecting viewer is expected to take in all this horror for free.
For instance, the use of tobacco. It can cause cancer. And look at the terrible ads. After watching it, you do not want to watch the film either.
Next comes consumption of alcohol. The rule that censors have to ensure is observed is that where ever alcohol is seen consumed or shown, the scene should be stamped with a warning against its use--disfiguring the scene per se.
It is indeed nice our popular governments have a real concern for their citizens' health. But they are grossly insensitive about how they are encroaching on the film, which is an artistic creation even if it is compromised on many fronts. Irrespective of its quality and integrity, each film is compelled to carry a statutory warning on its forehead--in the beginning, middle, end, and wherever alcohol is shown.
Strangely and happily, there is no prior official censorship for television, theatre or literature or any other sphere of artistic or creative activity in this country. But the government's and industry's own attitude is to look at cinema as sheer business and nothing more. There is little realisation that there are cinemas of various kinds--some sheer commodities for sale and other genuinely uncompromising artistic creations.
Isn't it time we put an end to this unethical and uncivilised practice and kept some respect and regard for artistic expression?
These questions were being constantly asked among serious filmmakers for a long time. And it was by the end of the 70s that the Government of India appointed a high-level Study Group on National Film Policy under the chairmanship of Dr Sivaram Karanth to go into various aspects of filmmaking in the country and propose ways and means of improving the film industry. Many of its recommendations were put in to practice. The formation of the NFDC was one of its offshoots.
One important area which the committee went into in detail was censorship. Three of us in the group, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and myself, were for the abolition of the Censor Board as an outdated institution which served only a negative role. Interestingly, a majority of the members were in agreement with this proposal but there was a surprise waiting for us. That was an argument from the side of the commercial cinema lobby. Mr GP Sippy and Ramanand Sagar in particular held that the abolition of censorship would ruin the film industry. A censor certificate provided for them a strong fortification against all kinds of possible litigation a producer could be dragged into.
This was an argument we could not disregard. And our proposal is still in abeyance.
But then there arises the natural question: can't the film fraternity itself find ways and means of amicable settlements of disputes and rivalries? Wouldn't that be better than being browbeaten by non-professionals who pretend to be know-alls and custodians of decency and goodness?
It seems the practice of censorship will continue until the day when the commercial industry gets organised and asks for its 'THE END'.
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