India’s film certification law is vague, to say the least. Monitored by CBFC, there is immense scope for errors while certifying films.
CBFC can pass an order refusing to certify a film, or, an order directing a filmmaker to carry out excisions (cuts) and modifications as a condition precedent to certify a film, or, an order granting only an “A” certificate to a film.
In the face of this, what remedy does a filmmaker have?
Cinematograph Act of 1952 provides that an Appellate Tribunal called Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) shall hear appeals against CBFC’s orders that aggrieve filmmakers.
As per Cinematograph Act of 1952, FCAT is to consist of a Chairman and not more than four members. The Chairman and the members are appointed by the Central Government. As per Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Chairman of FCAT shall be a retired Judge of a High Court, or, a person who is qualified to be a Judge of a High Court. However, as regards the remaining members of FCAT, Cinematograph Act of 1952 merely provides that the Central Government may appoint such persons to be members of FCAT, who, in its opinion, are qualified to judge the effect of the films on the public. Even Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983 do not stipulate any qualification/s of members of FCAT.
Appeals to FCAT (located in New Delhi) have to be made by a petition in writing. A brief statement of the reasons for the order appealed against has to be furnished, if such a statement has been furnished to the aggrieved filmmaker. There’s also a fee of up to ₹1,000.
All of this must be done within 30 days from the date of CBFC’s order which is being challenged.
If FCAT is satisfied that the aggrieved filmmaker was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal within the said 30 days, then, the appeal can be taken up within a further period of 30 days.
In the event that the filmmaker is aggrieved by the verdict of FCAT, the filmmaker is free to approach the concerned High Court. If needed, the aggrieved filmmaker can also approach Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.
Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) formulates and administers Indian law relating to broadcasting, information and films. Last January, it appointed a committee chaired by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, to evolve guidelines and procedures for the benefit of the CBFC. In April 2016, the said committee submitted its report. Draft rules and guidelines were proposed while recommending amendments in some provisions of Cinematograph Act of 1952.
In another incident, noted actor Amol Palekar has challenged the Constitutional validity of provisions of Cinematograph Act of 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification) Rules of 1983. In its order, Hon’ble Supreme Court of India issued notice to MIB and CBFC.
While the writ petition is pending, these and other developments on the policy and judicial fronts are promising.
It can be hoped that in the times to come, film certification law in India is rationalised.
Kumar Abhishek and Arjun Natarajan have worked on this piece, which is inspired by Arjun Natarajan’s original piece “Film Certification In India And The Curse of Pre-Censorship”.