Film Expression and Censorship in India: Review Committee Reports, Benegal Committee report, Mudgal Committee report, Censorship Model (Part 4)
Review Committee Reports
The Benegal Committee and the Mudgal Committee constituted in 2016 and 2013 were tasked with the job of making recommendations for the process of film certification in India, Uniform, Non-Discriminatory and Non-Discretionary among others. Though both the reports agree that the existing system of film certification is fraught with subjectivity, they diverge in their recommendations for making it objective. While the Mudgal Committee, in line with its mandate, recommends making the certification mechanism objective and transparent by amendments to principles and changes in the process, the Benegal Committee recommends a transformation of the roles and responsibilities of the CBFC. Both the committees are of the opinion that the categories of certification must be expanded to include additional categories in ‘Universal Viewing (U)’ certificate based on age, and ‘Adult Viewing (A)’ Certificate based on the extent of nudity, violence, etc. These Committees in their reports have submitted model Cinematographic Bill and amendments to existing provisions in the Act.
An overhaul or at least an amendment of the outdated Cinematograph Act is likely in the near future, and despite their differences, scholars across the board agree that the current system is more subjective than objective. When motion picture technology came into being in the early 20th century, it was a path-breaking invention, which took entertainment to a totally different level. The technology that could show pictures in motion and synchronize sounds with it not only added a new dimension of entertainment for the public, but also became an important instrument of social change. Films at the time had an influence on people and society to an extent that legal scholars at the time felt the need for a legislation to regulate film expression. Today, Cinematographic Works are in fact the only form of creative expression subject to prior restraint, restriction and regulation.
Contrary to the situation earlier, the world of entertainment underwent a huge transformation by the end of the 20th Century. Theaters are no longer major sources of entertainment, and a film spectator today has many other options at his behest. The emergence of internet and digital technologies have fueled the growth of new means and modes of entertainment, which are easily accessible to the contemporary spectator. From computers to mobile devices, the modern film spectator has many entertainment options ranging from games to chats at his behest.
Today, a film spectator does not access films only in theaters, and his mind is constantly engaged by multiple sources of entertainment. Owing to the integration of social media, mobile applications and other technologies in the life of people, a film spectator is constantly distracted, and her/his mind is jumping from arena to arena. In such a context, the impact of films on the minds of spectators is no longer the same as earlier. The contemporary spectator is no longer an average, gullible person, who can be easily influenced, she/he is an intelligent, well informed spectator, who applies her/his mind before framing an opinion. A film must meet very high standards in order to occupy the contemporary spectator’s mind, and withhold the mind from jumping to the next avenue.
The emergence of social media and social networks, and the ease of access to content on such networks has further diminished the role of films in influencing the minds of people. Social media not only allows one to vent out her/his opinions about films, but also pave the way for making judgments on films based on opinions of others. It wouldn’t be an extrapolation to state that films and film success is today influenced by people and society rather than the other way around. At best, films are today triggers for debates and discussions to frame opinions, and, unlike earlier, not influencers of public opinion or human mind. Therefore, regulating only films meant for theatrical releases to the exclusion of television films, online films, user generated films and so on has very limited relevance in today’s context.
With the diminished value of films in influencing and impacting human mind, the very objectives on which prior restraint of films was justified in India is no longer valid. The Cinematograph Act is therefore a legislation that does not fit into the contemporary social context and standards. As it stands today, India does not need a law that mandates prior restraint of film expression. The Act may therefore be completely repealed, or substantially modified to make CBFC a mere certification body in line with the Benegal Committee Report’s recommendations.
The CBFC may just be given the responsibility of issuing a certification based on the content of the film, and the authority to reject certification or require excisions may be divested from the Board. In other words, CBFC must only play the role of receiving applications for certification, and granting an appropriate certificate within a specified time based on the content of the film. It cannot reject a certificate, or ask for cuts in a film to certify. The categories of certificates may be expanded, and it will be the film maker’s prerogative to make cuts, changes or modifications to get a Universal viewing certificate if the CBFC gives it an explicit or restricted certificate. The extended categories suggested by the Benegal Committee for certification, U, U (12 Plus), U (15 Plus), A, AC (Explicit Content), and S (Restricted), may be adopted for certification.
Authored by Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala, Senior Partner and Chief IP Attorney, Banana IP Counsels. The author can be reached at [email protected]
 Report of committee of experts chaired by Shyam Benegal to recommend broad guidelines/ procedure for certification of films by the central board of film certification (CBFC), 26 april 2016; and report of the committee of experts to examine issues of certification under the cinematograph act, 1952, 28th september 2013, Chaired by Justice Mukul Mudgal, Retired Chief Justice, High Court of Punjab and Haryana