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Shyam Benegal Committee Report on CBFC

Films are considered as a great medium of communication with the people. With the development and progress of the society and also with the progress in the field of science and technology the films have undergone a sea change and by adopting all the available technologies it has been able to reach the masses and also significantly contributed to the social and cultural development of the country. In this way the films are equated with the Press and are considered as a great medium of communication. 

Shyam Benegal committee was mandated to lay down norms for film certification that take note of best practices in various parts of the world and give sufficient and adequate space for artistic and creative expression, lay down procedures and guidelines for the benefit of the CBFC Board to follow and examine staffing patterns with a view to recommending a framework that would provide efficient and transparent user friendly services. 

The panel also included filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, actor-filmmaker Kamal Hassan, adman Piyush Pandey and film journalist Bhawana Somayaa among others.

Following are the major highlights of the report: 

a) The committee recommended modification under section 5B of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Section 5B states that a film will not be certified if a part of it or the entire film is against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the country, decency or morality, etc. The Committee noted that some of the objectives under these guidelines, such as requiring the film to be sensitive to the values of the society, providing clean and healthy entertainment, were not within the ambit of the CBFC. In this regard, the Committee has drafted a new set of guidelines. The objective of the guidelines is: (i) artistic expression and creative freedom of filmmakers is protected through parameters that are objective, (ii) audiences are empowered to make informed viewing decisions, (iii) the process of certification is responsive to social change. The guidelines also state that an applicant must mention in his application, (i) the category of certification he seeks, and (ii) the target audience. Further, any cuts in a film can only be made by the applicant, depending on the certification he needs for his film.

b) The applicant must specify the category of certification being sought and the target audience. 

c) The objective of these guidelines would be to ensure that –

•  Children and adults are protected from potentially harmful or unsuitable content. 

•  Audiences, particularly parents are empowered to make informed viewing decisions. 

•  Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed in the process of classification of films. 

•  The process of certification by CBFC is responsive, at all times, to social change.

•  The certification by CBFC keeps within the rights and obligations as laid down in the Indian Constitution. 

d) Regarding the categorisation of films, the committee recommends that it should be more specific and apart from U category, the UA Category can be broken up into further sub-categories - UA12+ & UA15+. The A category should also be sub-divided into A and AC (Adult with Caution) categories.

e) The Certification of films shall be carried out in accordance with the Guidelines proposed for certification that have been split into three sections, with each section required to be read with the other two - General Guidelines, Issue Related Guidelines and Category Specific Guidelines. 

f) The committee has also made certain recommendations regarding the functioning of the board and has stated that the Board, including Chairman, should only play the role of a guiding mechanism for the CBFC, and not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of certification of films. The functions of the Board shall be confined to the duties defined in the existing CBFC rules, which inter alia include an annual review of CBFC work, submission of annual report to the government, review of public reactions to films, and periodic recommendations for revision of guidelines. Given these limited functions, the size of the Board should be compact with one member representing each Regional Office. Therefore, the total composition of the Board should not be more than nine members and one Chairman. 

g) Online submission of applications as well as simplification of forms and accompanying documentation should be done. 

h) Recertification of a film for purposes of telecast on television or for any other purpose should be permitted. 

i) In order to preserve Indian Cinema, the committee recommends that every applicant be asked to deposit the Director's Cut in the NFAI for preservation of Indian Cinema, instead of the certified version, in order to truly reflect the cinematic history of Indian cinema. (j) Out-of-turn certification may be permitted for which the applicant would have to pay five times the fee that would have to be paid if the certification were done in the normal course. (k) In the event that complaints are received by the Central Government, the same shall be referred to the CBFC. The Chairperson may, if he considers it necessary to do so, refer the film to a Revising Committee for examination once again, on account of alleged violation of Section 5B(1) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

The Shyam Benegal Committee's report contains several suggestions that definitely represent a step in the right direction. While the introduction of new certification categories is good news, the existence of an unchanged and vague Section 5B (1) continues to leave much more room for interpretation than desired.