Censorship in India: Exploring the Role of the Central Board of Film Certification
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Censorship in India: Exploring the Role of the Central Board of Film Certification

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Censorship in India has been a topic of debate and discussion for many years. The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression, but there are certain restrictions on content to maintain communal and religious harmony. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) plays a significant role in regulating and certifying films for public exhibition. In this article, we will delve into the role of the CBFC and the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and examine the process of film certification.

The Central Board of Film Certification

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Its primary function is to regulate the public exhibition of films in India. The CBFC follows the guidelines and principles set forth in the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983.

The CBFC aims to ensure good and healthy entertainment that conforms to the provisions of the law. It categorizes films into different certification categories based on the content and age-appropriateness. The categories include 'U' (Unrestricted Public Exhibition), 'U/A' (Unrestricted Public Exhibition with Parental Guidance), 'A' (Restricted to Adult Audiences), and 'S' (Restricted to a Special Class of Persons).

The Cinematograph Act, 1952

The Cinematograph Act, 1952, was enacted to regulate the public screening of films in India. It provides a framework for the certification and regulation of films. Under this act, the CBFC has the authority to examine films in light of various factors such as the principles of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, morality, decency, and more.

The act establishes a rigorous procedure for certifying films for public exhibition. It also empowers the CBFC to recommend changes to films if necessary. The certification process takes into account the values of society, artistic expression, social needs, and the promotion of clean and healthy entertainment.

Film Certifications

The CBFC grants film certifications based on the content and age-appropriateness of the films. There are four categories of certifications:

  1. U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition): Films with a 'U' certification can be universally viewed by the whole public, regardless of age. These films generally have universal themes like education, family, and morals. They may contain some vulgarity but without excessive violence, nudity, or sexual content.
  2. U/A (Unrestricted Public Exhibition with Parental Guidance): Films with a 'U/A' certification can be viewed by children under 12, but only with parental consent and guidance. These films may have certain adult content, but it is not too strong. The content is mildly violent, vulgar, and sexual in nature, and abusive language is censored or muted.
  3. A (Restricted to Adult Audiences): Films with an 'A' certification are restricted to adult audiences aged 18 and above. These films may contain violence, sexual acts, abusive language, and other adult content. They are usually re-certified for TV and video.
  4. S (Restricted to a Special Class of Persons): Films with an 'S' certification are restricted to a special class of people, such as professionals like doctors and lawyers.

The CBFC has the authority to reject certification if a film does not fit into any of the above categories. The certification process ensures that films adhere to certain standards and do not cross the boundaries of reasonable content.

Objectives of Certification

The certification process carried out by the CBFC serves various objectives as laid down in the Cinematograph Act, 1952. These objectives include:

  1. Preserving Sovereignty and Integrity: The CBFC examines films to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  2. Maintaining Public Order: Films are scrutinized to assess whether they have the potential to disrupt public order or incite the commission of any offense.
  3. Promoting Moral Values: The CBFC aims to promote decency, aesthetic values, and good cinematic standards in the films that are certified.
  4. Protecting National Security: Films are assessed to determine if they pose any risk to national security or friendly relations with foreign states.
  5. Balancing Artistic Expression: The CBFC ensures that artistic expression and creative liberty are not unnecessarily curtailed while certifying films.

The certification process involves a comprehensive examination of the films, taking into account their overall content and impact on society.

The Judicial Perception of Censorship

The judiciary in India has played a significant role in shaping the perception of censorship and film certification. In various landmark cases, the Supreme Court has provided guidance on the principles that should be followed in censoring films.

The court has emphasized the need for reasonableness in censorship decisions and the importance of considering contemporary national standards. In cases such as Raj Kapoor v. State and K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, the court has upheld the decision-making authority of the censor board, considering their expertise in determining the suitability of films for public exhibition.

The court has also laid down tests to assess the obscenity or offensiveness of films, including the "ordinary prudent man" test and the examination of a film as a whole. It has recognized that nudity and sex are not always obscene and that films should be judged based on their entirety and the message they seek to convey.

Controversies in Film Certification

Despite the framework provided by the Cinematograph Act and the guidelines of the CBFC, controversies have arisen over the certification and censorship of certain films. Some films have faced bans or cuts due to their depiction of sensitive topics or criticism of the government.

Films like 'War and Peace' and 'Gulabi Aaina' have faced challenges in obtaining certification due to their content. However, the Supreme Court has intervened in some cases, declaring certain cuts or bans to be unconstitutional and upholding the freedom of speech and expression.

It is essential to strike a balance between censorship and artistic freedom, ensuring that reasonable standards are applied while respecting the right to creative expression.

The Role of Censorship in Society

Censorship serves the purpose of protecting societal values, maintaining public order, and preserving national security. It prevents the dissemination of content that may be harmful, offensive, or disruptive to communal harmony.

However, censorship should not be used as a tool for moral policing or suppressing dissent. It should be guided by reasonable standards and take into account the changing dynamics of society. The CBFC and other regulatory bodies should exercise their authority responsibly, ensuring that decisions are fair, transparent, and in line with constitutional principles.

The Way Forward

In order to strike the right balance between censorship and artistic freedom, several measures can be taken:

  1. Clear Guidelines: The guidelines for certification should be clearly defined, leaving little room for discretion and arbitrary decision-making.
  2. Public Consultations: The CBFC should conduct public consultations and seek feedback from various stakeholders, including filmmakers, experts, and the general public, to ensure transparency and inclusivity in the certification process.
  3. Accountability and Oversight: There should be mechanisms in place to ensure accountability and oversight of the CBFC's decisions. This can be achieved through regular audits, independent reviews, and the establishment of an appellate body to review certification decisions.
  4. Encouraging Dialogue: Instead of resorting to bans or cuts, the CBFC should encourage dialogue and open discussions on sensitive topics. This can help foster a more inclusive and tolerant society.
  5. Promoting Education and Awareness: Efforts should be made to educate the public about the importance of censorship and its role in maintaining social harmony. This can be done through awareness campaigns, workshops, and educational programs.

In conclusion, censorship plays a crucial role in regulating the public exhibition of films in India. The CBFC, guided by the Cinematograph Act, certifies films based on their content and age-appropriateness. While censorship is necessary to protect societal values and maintain public order, it should be carried out in a transparent, fair, and reasonable manner. Striking the right balance between censorship and artistic freedom is essential for the growth and development of the film industry in India.

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