The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC or Censor Board as some may call it) is a statutory censorship and classification body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
In India, the CBFC was set up regulate the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952.
The CBFC is composed of actors, writers, composers, scholars, industrialists, and politicians. CBFC offices are located in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati.
The objectives of Censor Board are:
1. To ensure healthy entertainment, recreation and education to the public.
2. To make the certification process transparent and responsible.
3. To create awareness among advisory panel members, media and film makers about the guidelines for certification and current trend in films through workshops and meetings.
4. To adopt modern technology for certification process through computerization of certification process and upgrades of infrastructure.
5. To maintain transparency about Board’s activities through voluntary disclosures, implementation of e-governance, prompt replies to right to information queries and publication of annual report.
6. To develop CBFC as a Centre of Excellence
Working procedure of the Censor Board
The Board comprises up to 25 members and 60 advisory panel members from across India, all of whom are appointed by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry. The CEO is chiefly in charge of administrative functions, and regional officers are part of the examining committees that certify films.
Upon receiving an application for certification, the relevant regional officer appoints an Examining Committee. In case of short films, it consists of a member of the advisory panel and an examining officer, one of whom must be a woman. Otherwise, the committee consists of four members of the advisory panel and an examining officer. Two members of the committee must be women. The decision on certification — Unrestricted public exhibition (U), parental guidance for children below age 12 (U/A), Adult (A) or Viewing by specialised groups (S) — is made by the regional officer based on the (unanimous or majority) report of the Examining Committee. In case of a divided opinion, the case rests with the chairperson. Mostly, the list of “suggested changes” is shared with the applicant in case the certification is unacceptable to the latter.
If the applicant isn’t happy with the certification or the list of changes, he or she can apply to the Revising Committee, which has the chairperson and up to nine committee members, a mix of the Board and the Advisory. No Advisory panel member who has viewed the film can be included.
A similar process is followed at this stage too, with the final word resting with the chairperson.
In case of persisting dissatisfaction with the certification, the matter goes to an independent Appellate Tribunal, whose members are appointed by I&B for a term of three years. Any further dispute goes to court.
On what grounds does Censor Board can refuse certification?
• A film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of article 19 [the sovereignty and integrity of India] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.
• When content in a film crosses the ceiling laid down in the highest category of certification.
• The applicant must specify the category of certification being sought and the target audience.
What the legal judgments in granting of censorship?
In S. Rangarajanvs P. Jagjivan Ram, the Supreme Court observed that pre-censorship of films was necessary because cinema audiences were not as “discerning” as newspaper readers. Nearly a decade later again, in the Bandit Queen case, the Supreme Court permitted some scenes of violence and frontal nudity on the ground that they served a larger social purpose of creating, in the minds of the viewers, a revulsion towards such actions. Similarly in the case of Udta Punjab, High Court remarked that multiplex audiences are now “mature” enough.
The court stated that the power to order changes and cuts must be exercised only in line with provisions of the Constitution and Supreme Court orders. Its mandate is not to interfere with the film-maker’s creative process and freedom of expression.
What are the shortcomings in the working of Censor Board?
The Censor Board is large expert body for grant of certificate of exhibition to a film. So its decisions must be given full weight. But the role and position of the Board is confusing.
The members are appointed and virtually controlled by the Government. Even a positive nod by the Board is not the final but depends on the Central Government. Already instances have been forwarded where either State Government or State-owned Doordarshan has scrapped movies even after being cleared by the Board and Central Government. In such circumstances, where does the importance of the Censor Board’s decisions lie?
The statute provides for the construction of advisory panels which can only make recommendations to the Board. However, in case of Rang De Basanti, the Board invited defence minister and people from the forces; during Da Vinci they invited I & B minister along with representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India for their advice who actually had the final say.
If in every case, people from respective spheres are to be called to verify the authenticity of the film and give binding recommendation then what is the rationale of having a statutory expert body.
Another aspect of this phenomenon is that irrespective of the effect of the movies, there is always a call for a total ban without even exploring any other possibilities.
The banning of films also has some other implications. While a film is banned, it does not only affect the freedom of speech and expression of the director or producer, it affects the economic aspects of many people which are also guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. Film making, distribution and screening are essential aspects of films business, if the film is banned, it affect all those aspects which defiantly falls under Article 19(1)(g). Again, in many cases violent groups ransack theatres in protest against the screening of certain films. It definitely affects the property of the theatre hall owners
Hence the bans on the movies under different circumstances have not been imposed on valid constitutional grounds but to serve the interests of different groups whether social, religious or political. Under no circumstances, the bans of aforementioned nature can be justified.
The ‘reasonable’ restriction under Article 19(2) was invariably for public interest but it has been twisted on many occasions to strangulate the freedom of speech and expression. The result is that we have been deprived of several films as it does not satisfy the taste of ‘others’. In today’s world with enormous improvement in information technology, restraining movies in the name of maintaining public peace, respecting emotions of people and similar reasons are simply ridiculous. There are numerous alternative sources through which the news and views depicted in the movies are articulated to the general public. So, restraining movies does not serve any purpose. On the other hand, it may actually give wrong message to the public through indirect interpretation. It is always the best that the viewers’ themselves watch it and form his/her own opinion. General public may be devoid of proper education but not always of common sense.