Benegal panel can change censor rules

The Information & Broadcasting Ministry has done well to set up a committee under well-known filmmaker Shyam Benegal to revamp the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), better known as the Censor Board. The CBFC has always drawn adverse attention for its actions and decisions, and has become especially controversial after the appointment of Pahlaj Nihalani as its chairman. The government has stated that the Benegal committee has been set up to ‘provide a holistic framework and enable those who are tasked with the certification of films to discharge their responsibilities keeping in view this framework’. The CBFC is in some ways an anachronistic body now. It was formed under the Cinematograph Act of 1952 and has powers derived from the cinematograph rules of 1983. Cinema was a new medium when it was set up and it was perhaps felt that there was a need for a body for its supervision. But since then, the medium has changed beyond recognition. The society and tastes and sensibilities have changed and the role of the CBFC should also necessarily change. Its relevance is even diminished in these times of social media and new methods of communication which it cannot control.

The CBFC has often acted as a Big Brother censoring films, prescribing cuts and even demanding retake of scenes to suit its views of what is fit for the spectators to see. It has done moral policing and brought to bear on films its ideas of sexuality and violence, and judged them on the basis of even political and religious orientations. The Nihalani-headed board has omitted kissing scenes from films and banned the use of many words from dialogues. Nihalani has said that he thinks films should conform to what is called the Indian tradition. The board has also been a place for governments to post their favourites. Many of them have not had any understanding of films.

The UPA government had appointed a committee under Justice Mudgal, which had made useful recommendations relating to certification of films and selection of members of the CBFC. These were not, however, acted upon. Shyam Benegal has the right credentials to head a committee on film certification. Its recommendations will hopefully receive better treatment. The growing view is that films should not be censored but only be categorised for viewing by different age groups. This is the practice being follo-wed in many countries. Ideally, spectators should have the freedom to decide what they want to view and the filmmakers’ freedom, which is basically free-dom of expression, should not be curbed by the state.

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