'CBFC members have little knowledge of history of cinema'

'CBFC members have little knowledge of history of cinema'

'CBFC members have little knowledge of history of cinema'

After having won a grant-in-aid from Indian Council of Social Science Research for a dissertation on film censorship in pre-independence India, he got his PhD from Jadavpur University on the same subject. Bhowmik, who has written several books in English and Bengali on various aspects of Indian cinema, has now come up with ‘Cinema and Censorship: the Politics of Control in India’. The book seeks to analyse how political agendas have controlled the film censorship policy in India. At present the director-in-charge of the Educational Multimedia Research Centre of Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College, Bhowmik speaks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald on the issue at hand:

Where does the genesis of this book lie?

There was thus an urgent need for updating the history of film censorship in independent India as nothing much was available since Aruna Vasudev’s ‘Liberty and License in the Indian Cinema’ came out in 1978. It was all the more necessary because major changes have been effected since then and the issue was getting more complex almost by the day. The aim of the book is to provide a study that will act as a source of information for anyone seeking an objective evaluation of the questions that may arise over the issue of film censorship.

Do you think censorship has lost its relevance, when people have access to all kinds of visual entertainment over various media and extra-constitutional forces often forces even CBFC-certified films to be banned/ taken off the theatres on various pretexts?

Yes, it’s certainly a problematic situation in which people have access to all kinds of titillating visual entertainment across media while CBFC plays the ‘moral police’ for films to be shown in theatres. As to the rise of the extra-constitutional pressure groups forcing films certified by CBFC to be banned or taken off the theatres, the responsibility rests largely with CBFC itself, which has frequently proved to be vulnerable to manipulation. The extra-constitutional pressure groups have more often than not had political or religious backing.

There is a view that in a pluralistic society like India, censorship is required to keep divisive and destructive views at bay. What’s your take on this?

Well, if the plurality of Indian society calls for the continuation of film censorship, let’s have something which is rational and constitutionally defensible. Having a CBFC, which is an ‘attached and subordinate’ organisation of the ministry of I&B, is disastrous. Let’s have an autonomous CBFC led by a chairperson, who is not a political appointee but chosen on the basis of some well-delineated parameters — preferably a jurist. The same goes for the choice of persons for the Central and regional advisory panels. Most importantly, it should have powers similar to those of the National Human Rights Commission, the Law Commission or the Press Council of India.

If the CBFC regulations need an overhaul, what do you think are the aspects that need to be removed from it?

Till May 1986, CBFC was known as the Central Board of Film Censorship. From June 1986 it has come to be known as the Central Board of Film Certification. Now, there is much difference between ‘certification’ and ‘censorship’. The former is a process by which a film’s content is classified with reference to certain parameters, such as the age of the viewer, its sexual orientation, violence-content, moral or ethical implication and so on. It is more like an additional piece of information relating an audience to the content of a film in advance. But in the Indian context the change of nomenclature has simply been a cosmetic one. However much as the Indian state machinery wants us to believe that the CBFC carries out certification, in truth it still indulges in censorship in the classical sense.

Your book speaks of political control of cinematic content through censorship. Is the fact that CBFC’s regional boards are packed with people owing allegiance to the party in power at the Centre an example of this?

Most certainly, yes. Also, the fact is that regional boards often comprise people who have very little knowledge about history of the film medium or equally little perception about the history of cinema in India. But what should worry us is the politics of control working behind the whole system. The idea of film censorship was to pre-empt any misuse of freedom by the film medium to the detriment of private citizens’ right, but its application so far has generated a long list of serious abuses of bureaucratic prerogative, official position and constitutional leverage. This has been so, despite the efforts of the judiciary to restrain the state. Even the spirit of the judiciary’s suggestion, articulated in the judgement in the ‘Tamas’ case, regarding the setting up of an active public grievance cell by CBFC, has been misused.

To be eligible for film festivals in India, Indian films need a CBFC certificate, while foreign films get away with a ‘censorship exemption’. How do you view this lacuna?

The ministry of I&B has to agree to ‘censorship exemption’ for foreign films, otherwise there won’t be foreign films available for exhibition in Indian festivals. But it cannot risk ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘critical’ films being shown at festivals organised by the government. This is stupidity and duplicity at its height.