The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a notification last month searching for remarks on proposed adjustments to the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The modification encompasses enormous changes to the mechanism for classifying movies. a group of filmmakers, academicians and college students have criticised the proposed amendments to the Act, which can empower the government to reserve the re-exam of an already licensed film and might grant the authorities overriding power over cinema and threaten the freedom of expression in India. Moreover, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has a robust mechanism for film certification and there is no need to repair something that is not damaged. Last but not the least, the government has now not provided enough time for significant consultation and the proposed changes exclude recommendations of two committees of specialists on CBFC reform.
The proposed amendments are intended to make two critical modifications to the certification technique. First, the category U/A will be subdivided based on age into U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+. Second, the change will empower the Union authorities to direct the CBFC to rethink the certificates it has issued to a movie if the authorities feel that it does no longer conform to the ‘Guiding concepts’ under Section 5B(1). Under this Section, CBFC shall now not certify films that pass in opposition to “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of the State, 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”. The curious element right here is that the amendment seeks to bypass a preferred courtroom decision that read down the Union authorities’ powers. The year 2000 judgment held that the authorities cannot weigh in on cases wherein the CBFC has already taken into consideration and certified a movie.
The Union government additionally has the authority to suspend, alternate or revoke a certificate under Section 5E and Section 6(2). The proposed change permits the Union government to resend a licensed movie to the CBFC for further evaluation, on the grounds of national security and/or public order, amongst different matters. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting emphasises that these amendments have been proposed “to tackle the menace of film piracy.” Earlier this month, the Ministry had requested the citizens to put up their remarks on the draft of the Bill within July 2.
In protest, eminent film personalities like Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Hansal Mehta, Vetri Maaran, Farhan Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Dibakar Banerjee and Nandita Das have submitted a 12-page feedback letter, criticising the amendments and urging to reverse it calling it “another blow to the film fraternity,”. The feedback letter suggests that these amendments jeopardize “freedom of expression” and can “render filmmakers powerless at the hands of the state as more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors.” It has obtained as many as 1,400 petitioners. They further added, “We welcome the move to address piracy-related concerns but suggest that given that existing law penalises piracy, there is no need to introduce further penal provisions.” The group has also suggested the restoration of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). This statutory authority which got dissolved in April was formed to listen to appeals of the filmmakers’ grievances over the orders of the CBFC. Now if the filmmakers are not happy with the decision made by the CBFC, they need to approach the High Court.
It will be interesting to see how far this conflict continues over the amendment of the Cinematograph Act and what does the Modi government do to keep its commitment of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.