On June 18, 2021, the Central Government released the draft Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2021 for public comments. It seeks to amend the Cinematograph Act of 1952 by including provisions giving the Centre revisionary powers to re-examine a film after it has been approved for release by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
This is another blow to the film fraternity, as cited by the group, after the abolition of the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) earlier this year by the government. The FCAT served as the last point of appeal for the filmmakers against the decisions of the CBFC.
The following key provisions have been put forward by the Government-
Revision of the CBFC certification- It proposes to give power to the Government to reverse the decision of CBFC and direct the chairman to re-examine the film.
Provision against piracy - To address the menace of piracy, a provision to add Section 6AA to the Act has been proposed to prohibit unauthorized recording with the imposition of penal provisions including imprisonment and fine. The current Act does not contain any provision to check film piracy.
Age-based certification - At present, there are only three age-based certifications for a film- ‘U’, for unrestricted public exhibition; ‘U/A’ requiring parental guidance for kids below 12 years of age and ‘A’ for Adult films. The new draft aims at subdividing the ‘U/A’ certification further into three categories -
U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+, the other two age classifications remaining the same.
Eternal Certification - The certificate granted by the CBFC, currently valid for 10 years only, has now been proposed to be valid for a lifetime.
What is the rationale behind the amendments?
The further bifurcation of age-based certification is a step in the right direction. The provision penalizing the misdeed of piracy is the need of the hour given the huge losses suffered by the film industry due to unauthorized recording. The government has cited the ‘reasonable restrictions’ as per Article 19(2) of the Constitution as a justification for its proposal to exercise its power of recertification.
Criticism by the Film fraternity
The film industry has expressed its sharp criticism of the draft on the grounds of it rendering them powerless at the hands of the state. The power of the Centre to order recertification may lead to an additional layer of censorship on top of the CBFC.
This amendment is also in contrast to the Supreme Court ruling that the center has no right to demand censorship once the board for film certification has approved and certified a film.
There have been apprehensions regarding the possibility of this state censorship turning into mob censorship. Any fringe group might object to a film as has been the case in the recent past with respect to many films based on social evils and historical figures. Random objections might lead to delaying the process of certification.
The dissolution of the FCAT and the proposed amendments in the draft might further burden an independent filmmaker by increasing the litigation costs against the certification as they will need to approach courts for the same.
Overall it might lead to limiting the creativity of artists. Hence it has been termed as a ‘super censor’ by the filmmakers.
Cinema has always been regarded as one of the most powerful mediums of not just entertainment but also information and has helped play a significant role in bringing about positive social change. Hence, it becomes increasingly important to preserve artistic freedom and limit regulatory compliance in a way that does not hamper art in its pure form. However, the recent amendments do not seem to be easing compliance issues or the freedom of artistic expression.
With the abolition of FCAT, new rules for OTT platforms by the government, and now the proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952, the question remains if this will enhance accountability as cited by the government or lead to another roadblock in the path of independent art and cinema?
This article has been written by Khanak Sharma for the Paradigm.
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