Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952.
Films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they have been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification.
The Board, consists of non-official members and a Chairman (all of whom are appointed by Central Government) and functions with headquarters at Mumbai. It has nine Regional offices, one each at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati. The Regional Offices are assisted in the examination of films by Advisory Panels. The members of the panels are nominated by Central Government by drawing people from different walks of life for a period of 2 years.
The Certification process is in accordance with The Cinematograph Act, 1952, The Cinematograph (certification) Rules, 1983, and the guidelines issued by the Central government u/s 5 (B).
The following are the objectives of film certification:
- the medium of film remains responsible to values and standards of the society;
- artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curb;
- certification is responsive to social change;
- the medium of film provides clean and healthy entertainment; and;
- the film is of aesthetic value and cinematically of a good standard.
Certification of films is governed by the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983. Its guidelines are framed under Section 5 B of the Act, which says that “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 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.”
The CBFC ensures that the film –
- is judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact; and
- is examined in the light of the period depicted in the film and the contemporary standards of the country and the people to which the film relates, provided that the film does not deprave the morality of the audience.
Indian film industry has been under fire recently due to ban imposed on some films which created breach of peace and harmony in the society. There seems to be political interference in getting the films released either without any cuts or with cuts as per the whims and fancies of some political leaders by way of pressuring the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which is the only regulatory body put in place to censor the scenes which they consider to be objectionable. Ms. Leela Samson, Chief of CBFC recently resigned from her post as she alleged that there was a lot interference and pressure from some political leaders in the autonomous functioning of the board. This shows that the CBFC is not functioning autonomously but has been a tool of exploitation from the political parties. This has been proved from the fact that two films PK and MSG: The Messenger of God took the beating from the censor board and the political parties too. Ms. Samson was pressurized by some right-wing Hindu religious organizations to ban the film “PK,” that takes swipes at self-styled holy men and religious superstition. The film was exhibited across the country without major cuts. This was followed by yet another controversial film MSG: The Messenger of God which was called by the Sikh organizations as blasphemous was allowed to be filmed by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) in its quick decision after an appeal was filed against the decision of the CBFC for banning the same. This led the Chief of CBFC alongwith all the other officials of the board to resign from their official positions. Now the question arises here is that whether the CBFC should be allowed to function as it is with autonomous powers without political interference or its powers are to be restricted to mere a body for rating the films produced in India as well as foreign films released in India as per their contents and allow the films go uncut and hence protect the rights of the producers, directors and writers to freedom of speech and expression? The freedom of speech and expression of citizens of India is the most basic fundamental freedom protected under the Indian Constitution of India. This freedom allows the citizens to freely express their ideas and thoughts through various mediums such as print, audio or audio-visuals, with the help of pictures, signs, paintings, films, dramas, etc. However, this freedom is not at all absolute in nature but has been qualified with some reasonable restrictions imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India on what may be feely said, published or exhibited, especially in the context of media and entertainment sector.
As we have experienced in the past and even recently, such kind of attempt to exceeding the freedom of speech and expression beyond the restrictions, may take a very ugly turn that can disturb and may weaken the strong bonding of unity and integrity in diversity of religion, culture and traditions. We have also seen some of the films such as Amar, Akbar Anthony, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Mehra and Rishi Kapoor, etc. where all the religions have been given equal respects. An attempt should be made by the film industry not to go beyond the restrictions put on them while exercising their freedom speech and expression as it is already stated earlier films are one of the most effective means of entertainment. By exercising selfrestraint there will be peace in the society and the precious time and money of the Courts and the Government respectively will be saved and may be utilized in some important welfare matters for the betterment of the society. Even the judiciary while deciding the cases relating to religions should balance its decision so as to avoid conflict in the society. The CBFC must be given autonomous powers to function independently without political interference. Similarly, the provisions of the Act of 1952 that allows an opportunity to invite public response in case of controversial films must be utilized by the CBFC compulsorily so as to avoid conflicts in the future. Finally, in the alternative the CBFC may be restricted to the work of rating the films instead of censoring them (as it is followed in the U.S.A. and other countries) as per the contents of the film and let the public decide the fate of the film and exercise their own discretion while watching the film.