Censor board is outdated, junk it

The most important recommendation made by the committee headed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal, appointed by the government to look into the role of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in films, is also its best. The CBFC is commonly known as the censor board because of the scissor-happy ways it has always adopted in dealing with films. The committee has recommended that it should, in future, stick literally to its name and avoid cutting scenes from films, and it should only classify films as right for viewing by different age groups. Films, for example, may be certified as suitable for viewing by children, those in the 12-15 age group or by adults. This is the norm followed by most democratic countries which value freedom of expression and the needs of art. Censorship, enforced through cuts and bans, is authoritarian and anti-democratic, and is a legacy of the colonial past. Only that it is used more for moral vigilantism than for political repression now.

Censorship is out of place in a liberal world where the individual’s sense of judgment is valued and respected. There is also not much practical sense in editing ‘immoral’ and ‘objectionable’ scenes from films when uncensored films are freely available on the internet and through other channels. It is also illogical to use different yardsticks for Indian and foreign films. The CBFC is on a mission mo-de now with Pahlaj Nihalani as its chairman, exorcising film screens of kisses, embraces and even swear words. The government should look beyond Nihalani’s world view and find sense in the recommendations of the committee. Cinema is a medium of art and the artist’s creativity and freedom should not be circumscribed in a free society. It is not for the government and its agencies to decide what people should view, listen to or read.

The committee has also made some welcome recommendations about the composition and functioning of the board. It wants the board to play only a guiding role and not involve itself in day-to-day affairs. It wants it to be more widely represented but does not want it to have more than 10 members, including the chairman. It is an unwieldy body now. But it will remain a government-appointed body and will be guided and controlled by the government. Ideally, it should be an independent and self-regulating body, as in most democratic countries. The committee’s suggestion that a film can be denied certification if it goes against national interest and security is problematic, as these notions can be defined arbitrarily.

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