A draft bill, framed on the basis of the recommendations from a committee headed by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, has demanded drastic amendment to the Cinematography Act, and with excellent reason.
According to a report in Hindustan Times, the agenda is to reduce the power of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to intervene in projects and compel filmmakers to modify and delete content that it deems offensive. Instead, as per the suggestions of the bill, the censor board, as it is ironically called, will provide specific pre-release certifications to movies.
Filmmakers will have the right to challenge or get these certificates revised, should they decide to change portions of their content to make it more suitable for universal viewership. Rather than having a draconian CBFC wielding the stick and telling filmmakers to excise 'inappropriate' or 'controversial' scenes or dialogue, such a measure may be the most pragmatic way around the continuing debate over the role of the censor board.
Since Pahlaj Nihalani was appointed the head of CBFC, which is an autonomous body functioning under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in 2015, the board has been dogged by a series of controversies.
From asking the makers of a documentary on Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal to get a no-objection certificate from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demanding words (like "cow" and "Hindutva view of India") to be beeped out of a movie about Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the CBFC has made a string of absurd and unreasonable demands of filmmakers over the last two years.
In between, the board was offended by the movie, Lipstick Under My Burkha, for being "lady-oriented". It asked for half a dozen cuts in Madhur Bhandarkar's biopic about Indira Gandhi, Indu Sarkar, a move that hooligans who support the Congress interpreted as a license to cause havoc at public screenings and press meets. CBFC also deleted the phrase "Mann ki Baat" from another movie — because it doesn't deserve to be spoken by anyone other than the honourable prime minister of the country.
If you thought foreign movies, acclaimed by an international audience and winning prestigious awards, would be spared, you are too optimistic. Oscar-winning Moonlight, a gay-themed contemporary classic, wasn't spared the knife by the CBFC either. But then, could we reasonably expect anything better from a national institution that wanted the makers of a movie to mute the mention of Hanuman Chalisa because it failed to ward off a ghost?
It's not without reason that the CBFC's forbidding attitude has been seen as overeager to toe the line of the government in power. As Sandip Roy write in HuffPost India in response to the controversy over the movie about Amartya Sen, the board decided to crawl even before it was asked to bend by the powers that be.
The sign of a mature democracy, as opposed to a police state that acts like a nanny to its citizens, is the freedom it allows its people to think, read, speak, write and watch performances. In a country of over a billion people, biases and opinions are bound to differ starkly, but there are ways of accommodating such differences in a civil and mature manner, through dialogue, debate and dissent — not by vandalising public property, threatening actors and assaulting film crews.
By certifying movies for specific age brackets with appropriate advisory, the censor board will be able to indicate to audiences the nature of the potential content while allowing filmmakers the liberty to express their views freely. If there are still more people who want to cause trouble because they find a movie not to their taste, there are always the police and the judiciary to tackle such mischief-makers.
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