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‘A’ in Rajasthan but ‘U/A’ in Kerala: Film-makers want censorship to be sensitivity-centric

Representatives from various film bodies held a meeting with I&B Ministry to suggest changes in India's film certification process, including keeping pace with OTT.

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New Delhi: Film associations in India want changes in the film certification process. In a meeting they held with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting last month, 50 film associations from across the country suggested using different standards of censorship for different states, and easing the certification process.

Officials in the Ministry of Information and Broadcast have promised to take the recommendations into consideration when the central government officially introduces amendments to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the law that governs film certification in India, a press release issued by the ministry said. 

The Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2021, is a proposed law that proposes to give the Union government greater control over the film certification process — a move that critics fear would limit the freedom of expression. 

Representatives from various regional arms of the Film Federation of India (FFI), the heads of quasi-government bodies like the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), and private bodies like the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA), and the Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association were part of the meeting. 

Also read: Tougher piracy controls, Centre’s certification power — what film certification bill changes

The demands

The associations want the CBFC — the organisation entrusted with film certification in India — to apply different yardsticks while certifying movies in different states. A subject that could possibly affect a certain region should not face a blanket ban in areas with the capacity to consume it, the associations say. 

“Sometimes people in progressive states like Kerala and West Bengal have the capacity to consume content that is more controversial in other states,” FFI General Secretary Ravi Kottarakara, who was present in the meeting, said. “It doesn’t make sense to use the same standard of censorship in these states.”

For example, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat created ripples within the Rajput community, leading to violent protests across Rajasthan, Delhi, and Gujarat, but such reactions were largely absent in southern and eastern states.

Ashoke Pandit, president of the Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association, said the solution is to introduce additional regional censor boards that would be able to understand the sensibilities of a given region.  

“This will help avoid blanket bans and censorship,” Pandit added.  

Decisions on whether or not to release a movie should ultimately lie with state governments, Kottarakara said. 

“There is no doubt about the fact that the state government has to take control over the law and order of the land, and so decisions regarding censoring a film at a difficult time should be with them,” he added.

Also read: Actor Ayesha Takia’s husband and SP leader accuses CISF of being ‘racist’ at Goa airport

More certification categories 

The associations also discussed the possibility of having additional certification categories, especially in the era of Over The Top (OTT) platforms, Kottarakara said.

“The division of film certification is old,” Kottarakara added. “It’s from a time when OTT platforms were not present. We have witnessed a surge in the diversity of films and hence there is a need for more compartments where we can accommodate films of various genres.”

Films are currently categorised as U (Unrestricted viewing), U/A (unrestricted but with parental guidance for children below 12), and A (adults) and S (restricted to a class or a profession (S).

The Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2021, proposes additional age-based divisions within the U/A category — U/A 7+, U/A 13+, and U/A 16+.

Another suggestion was to build a common one-stop digital certification platform for film-makers to apply for certification. CBFC CEO Ravinder Bhakar and Chairperson Prasoon Joshi, who made the suggestion, said the aim was to “streamline the film certification processes by CBFC” and reduce paperwork.

Veteran film-maker Rahul Rawail, who was part of the committee that recommended the merger of four publicly funded film bodies to the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) of India earlier this year, said: “Keeping information online will ensure transparency not only to the film-makers but also to the general public and the government. The reasons why a certain film was kept in a category will become clear. These things can become misleading and confusing otherwise.”

This, he added, will do nothing to change the process of viewing the film before certification.

Pandit, also a known film-maker, said the certification process is riddled with red-tapism. 

“Our national film bodies have some good decisions in the past. But red-tapism tends to bog the industry down. We have to make the process easier for film-makers,” he said.   

The NFDC is the body that selects and sends films to foreign festivals. The ministry is currently considering a leadership change at the organisation. 

I&B Ministry Secretary Apurva Chandra, who conducted the meeting, said anti-piracy issues were also discussed. The associations have asked for stricter punishments for piracy — the associations have suggested a jail term of eight years as opposed to the current penalty: a fine of Rs 2 lakh. 

Additional Secretary Neerja Shekhar, who was also part of the meeting, said an increase in India’s participation in showcasing films abroad could help bolster the country’s “soft power”.

“We need specific content from the industry that helps showcase Indian films to foreign countries where the demand for Indian films is present,” the ministry’s press release quoted her as saying. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also read: And, cut! — Modi govt’s new cinema bill a ‘super censor’. And Netflix no longer an oasis


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