Certification and Censorship In Indian Cinema– The Way Ahead

When the Bengali film Sahib Bibi Golaam finally got cleared by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal director Pratim D Gupta was a relieved man. He had managed to get the film cleared for release after the CBFC (Bengal chapter) had turned it down twice. And the film was turned down for multiple reasons – from a ‘long’ rape scene to the word ‘bibi’ being used in the title.

sbgBut of course the green chit did not come easy. The film’s release got delayed from January to September. And the filmmaker had to mute a few words. “By the book they cannot ask me to mute. So they asked us to write that we agreed to mute the words on our own! This was in Delhi, at the FCAT, where we finally got the film passed,” says Gupta, who has also been a well followed film critic for years. “They had randomly chosen six words. So the word gandu occurs thrice in the film, they have chosen to mute once. So it’s quite bewildering. We don’t know who’s set the rules and who’s interpreting them!” he points.

He did not make half as much news as Udta Punjab – the movie that actually brought out the ‘problem’ that Indian film industry has faced with the Central Board of Film Certification. And made to national and even international news. In many ways the film actually turned into a tipping point. One where filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap made accusations that this board has almost negatively impacted his career.

To take things back a few months, Bollywood biggie Aamir Khan along with likes of Mukesh Bhatt, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Ramesh Sippy, Gulzar, Vidya Balan etc had approached the I&B Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to discuss the menace that the CBFC has turned into. The Board has issued a rather comical list of 28 words (cuss and otherwise) that should not go without being beeped out. The minister had provided a clear perspective when he said the CBFC was a certification body and that is what it should do. “No individual can affect the certification of films, so is the process. So, things are made in such a manner that no one person can hijack the system,” the minister had stated.

Things obviously had not progressed as promised. Because soon after that things only seem to have got worse. Among the unsavory moments was when a kiss in the James Bond movie Spectre was cut short, flinging open torrents of sarcastic protests on social media terming certification board as sanskari.

And that is just one of the approaches that the CBFC takes. Beeping or cutting out scenes is almost a norm. And this is faced by almost every film in small and big numbers, often to agreement to the producers. After all cutting a word so that the film can reach out to a larger audience makes complete economic sense.

udta-punjabThe pitfall comes in during films like Udta Punjab. Over the last few years multiple films have been denied a certificate outright. These include Dance Of Democracy and Ek Dino Muzaffarnagar. The board apparently even mulled banning Anushka Sharma starrer NH10, before passing it off as an A-rated film.

The industry however is expecting a better time in the future as Shyam Benegal and his team – who were asked to file a recommendation on possible changes – have submitted their study. While the recommendations are not public yet, it is expected to be on the lines of a more elaborate certification strategy. “The recommendation that seems likely is the changing of the censor board in its current form to one that is merely for certification of films. That would mean that words will not be muted or scenes cut but the film will merely be certified,” says Amod Mehra, a trade pundit and distributor. Interestingly if that is implemented the industry also might find itself on another sticky wicket. “Television does not play A rated films. Legally there is no scope for re-certifying a film for separately for television. Once a film is censored the process ideally should end there,” informs Mehra. Atul Mohan, another trade analyst, asserts the same. “Pahlaj Nihlani had sent some similar recommendations as Shyam Benegal early last year. He is known for doing which is beneficial for the producers. There is no guideline under CBFC wherein a film which is certified as A-rated can be recalled and given a UA certificate for satellite viewing. Pahlaj Nihalani has gone out of the way to help the producers so that they can make money on satellite deals,” Mohan says.

In the meantime Partim D Gupta also hopes there are changed in the film examining committee. “I think people watch the film at the censor board should be related to cinema. This all walk of life theory I think is not a very good theory. There might be someone who is not exposed to any kind of international cinema. It is time that films that are coming out of India can find the pride the being pitted against films from other parts of the world,” he opines. He adds, “So much work goes into making a film and then a random person, who is not even a regional person of the CBFC, a person who get money to come and watch a film, a member who gets his membership through political quota, a person of zero understanding of cinema, comes and start talking about a kissing scene being too long!”

His view however finds opposition in Atul Mohan who says, “It is important to have people from different walk to society. They watch as common men. If only people from the film industry watch the film they might actually overlook certain elements that can create disharmony. For example a recent film had a character calling another ‘Marathi Ghati’. Now that can hurt Maharashtrian people and you cannot allow it.”

What is certain is there will be changes. And possibly in the near future. The question that would need answering is how far ahead it will go in taking India cinema And if there will be a better understanding of the freedom of expression.

Also, what remains to be seen is whether once the films make past the certification board, will it also mean it passes all other hurdles – liked political and apolitical outfits setting out to stop a film from hitting the silver screen.

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A few films which have faced problems:

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