We have often heard the word censorship regarding films. From popular movies like Udta Punjab to Haider to Lipstick Under My Burkha have faced censorship issues. All the rules and regulations regarding the censorships are answered in the Cinematography Act, 1952. As the world is changing the films are becoming more and more innovative to suit the style of people. The world is appreciating the new type of content which is being shown in the films. The Indian media and entertainment industry has recently undergone a tremendous change in terms of both the volume and demand for diverse content as well as the mediums used by viewers to access it.
Due to the rise of digitalization in India, Over-the-top ("OTT") platforms that provide affordable entertainment to people of various ages have made people divert their attention from television to the all-in-one package in their cell phones. Even programs on OTT platforms face censorship issues.
The Cinematograph Act of 1952 enforces certain guidelines that pacify filmmakers' public expression of ideas, opinions, and creativeness through films. Cinema has given birth to new opportunities and contentious issues in the socio-economic and cultural spheres. With the advancement of technology, it is easy to abuse the wonders of technology and portray themes that are harmful to social conformities.
In this article we are going to learn more about censorship and how it is affecting various filmmakers in India, the current regulatory framework for film certification, television program compliance, and regulatory trends for OTT media platforms.
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)
Section 3 of The Cinematography Act, 1952 states that the CBFC is a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India to approve films for public viewing.
The Central Board of Film Censors on 1st June 1983 was named as Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The CBFC consists of a Chairman and other members (whose number shall not be less than 12 but not more than 25) and they are appointed by the central Government.
The Chairman of the board receives salary and allowances which are determined by the Central Government whereas the other members-only receive allowances and fees for attending the meetings held by the board.
Members' tenure is also very flexible, with no set maximum or minimum tenure. In reality, the tenure is subject to the pleasure of the Central Government. The Central Government has the authority to terminate tenure on legitimate grounds whenever possible. The chairman, on the other hand, is only in office for three years. The chairman, with one exception, remains in office until his successor is appointed.
Regional Offices of CBFC
The nine Regional Offices have a particular regional officer who supervises them. They are situated in Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Guwahati, Cuttack, Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, and Thiruvananthapuram.
Examination of Films (Section 4)
Under Section 4 of The Cinematography Act, 1952 if a person desires to display any film, they shall do it in the prescribed manner stated under this act.
The person has to make an application to the board for a certificate and the board after examining or having the film examined in the prescribed manner.
The board has the right to:
i) Sanction the film for unrestricted public exhibition:
Concerning any material in the film, if the Board believes that it is necessary to caution that the question of whether any child under the age of twelve years should be considered by the parents or guardians of such child, the Board may sanction the film for unrestricted public exhibition with an endorsement to that effect.
(ii) Sanction the film for public exhibition restricted to adults; or
[ii(a)] Sanction the film to be shown in public only to members of any profession or class of people, taking into account the film's nature, content, and theme; or
(iii) direct the applicant to make such cuts or changes to the film as it deems necessary before sanctioning the film for public exhibition under any of the preceding clauses or
(iv) refuse to sanction the film for public exhibition.
Advisory panels (Section 5)
(1) To enable the Board to efficiently discharge its functions under this Act, the Central Government may establish advisory panels at such regional centers as it deems appropriate, each of which shall consist of the such number of persons, being persons qualified in the Central Government's opinion to judge the effect of films on the public, as the Central Government deems appropriate to appoint.
(2) At each regional center, the Central Government may appoint as many regional officers as it sees fit, and rules enacted in this regard may provide for the association of regional officers in film examination.
(3) The Board may consult in such manner as may be prescribed, any advisory panel in respect of any film for which an application for a certificate has been made.
(4) It shall be the duty of every such advisory panel whether acting as a body or in committees as may be provided in the rules made on this behalf to examine the film and to make such recommendations to the Board as it thinks fit.
(5) The members of the advisory panel shall not be entitled to any salary but shall receive fees or allowances as may be prescribed.
Types of Certifications (Section 5A)
There are mainly four kinds of certifications given by the Central Board of Film Certification:
1. Universal (U)
This type of certification is known as Unrestricted Public Exhibition, and it has no age restrictions on who can watch it. They could be about family, education, or social issues. This category contains fantasy violence with only minor foul language. When a film is certified U by the Board, it must ensure that it is appropriate for a family to watch together, including children.
Example: Frozen, Tangled, etc.
2. Parental Guidance (U/A)
This type of certification shows that the film is suitable for all ages. But to be accompanied by their parents is in the interests of children younger than 12. The reason could be that without the supervision of their parents the concept of the movie may not be appropriate for the child.
Example: Force, Ghajini, Kabali, etc.
3. Adults Only (A)
This type of film is intended for adults only, as the certification indicates. Adults are defined as people over the age of 18 in the context of this certification. The theme may contain negatively affecting, intense, drug abuse, and other related scenes that are not suitable for viewing by children who may be significantly affected by the same. Films that meet the above criteria but are not suitable for showing to children or those under the age of 18 will be certified A.
Example: Grand Masti, Delhi Belly, etc.
4. Restricted to Special Class of Persons (S)
This is the final type of certification under the board, and it explains that films rated S are only intended for a specific group of people. Doctors, for example. If the Board determines that the film's content, nature, and theme should be restricted to members of a specific group or profession, the above certification shall be granted to the film.
Objectives of film certification [Section 5B (2)]
The main objectives of the Board for the above are as follows:
1. To ensure that the film medium is held accountable. Furthermore, to protect the sensitivity of standards and societal values.
2. To ensure that creative freedom and expression are not inadvertently restricted.
3. To ensure to make adjustments according to the current changes in society.
4. To ensure that the film's concept provides healthy and clean entertainment.
5. To ensure that the film is of an appropriate cinematographic standard and artistic value.
6. To ensure that the film is judged in its entirety and not from a one-tracked biased perspective.
Appeals (Section 5C)
(1) Any person applying for a certificate in respect of a film who is aggrieved by
any order of the Board—
(a) refusing to grant a certificate; or
(b) granting only an “A” certificate; or
(c) granting only an “S” certificate; or
(d) granting only a “UA” certificate; or
(e) directing the applicant to carry out any excisions or modifications,
may, within thirty days from the date of such order, prefer an appeal to the Tribunal:
Provided that the Tribunal may, if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal within the aforesaid period of thirty days, allow such appeal to be admitted within a
a further period of thirty days.
(2) Every appeal under this section shall be made by a petition in writing and shall be accompanied by a brief statement of the reasons for the order appealed against where such statement has been furnished to the appellant and by such fees, not exceeding rupees one thousand, as may be prescribed.
1. Raj Kapoor vs. Laxman (14.12.1979 - SC)
Subject Matter: Certification of films
Issue: Whether certificate issued would amount to a justification for the public exhibition?
The complainant claimed that the film Satyam Shivam Sundaram was misleadingly foul and deceived the unwary into degeneracy due to its intriguing title and that vulgarity, indecent exposure, and vice were writ large on the film, constituting an offense. Following the examination of some witnesses, the Magistrate took cognizance of the offense and issued a notice to the appellant-producer of the film.
The appellant then petitioned the High Court, claiming that the criminal proceeding was an abuse of the judicial process and that no prosecution could be legally sustained because the film had been duly certified for public viewing by the Central Board of Film Censors. However, the petition was denied by the High Court, and thus an appeal was filed.
The Supreme Court ruled that a certificate issued under Section 5A of the Cinematograph Act constitutes a legal justification for a film's public exhibition and that the initiation of criminal processes for obscenity is not sustainable if the film has been approved by the censor board. The court did, however, state that the bar is not absolute, and that the filmmaker must participate in the legal proceedings to claim the safeguard.
2. S. Ranga Raan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574]
The issue in S. Ranga Raan v. P. Jagjivan Ram was whether the Tamil film "Ore Oru Gramathile" should be granted the "U" certificate. The film appears to condemn the exploitation of people based on their caste.
The Supreme Court ruled that as long as there is no proclamation in the film that threatens to take over the government through unlawful means and no indication of impairment in the country's integration, the U certificate can be granted.
To conclude this article, I would like to say that Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but it is also limited by Article 19(2), which allows the government to impose “reasonable restrictions” on this right “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or concerning contempt”. This gives the government a wide net to censor almost anything that is not in their favor.
Censorship, in many ways, not only silences speech but also produces authorized forms of truth. This is relevant not only to the cinema but also to the broader issues of all human creativity. It is argued that its conflicts over free speech are increasing.
There have been a few statements leveled at the CBFC, with corruption and nepotism limiting the fairness of this industry, and the CBFC itself being accused of being irrational. The censorship guidelines are reviewed regularly in the best interests of the viewing public, changing society, and public suitability. The CBFC must be restructured, as well as the Cinematograph Act of 1952 should be amended.
The Cinematograph Act, 1952
By Riddhika Vartak