India has had a miserable display when it comes to press freedom. With a rank of 142 out of 180, it is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to “Reporters Without Borders”, an international journalism not-for-profit body. When the situation for journalists who are merely trying to report the truth is so treacherous, one can only pity the fate of filmmakers.
The Indian film industry is more than a hundred years old. In those hundred years, the Central Board of Film Certification has made quite a name for itself and it is not a compliment. It has been regressive, problematic, and unreasonable many times.
Alankrita Shrivastava’s directorial venture, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” was famously denied certification in 2017 for being “lady-oriented” and containing “abusive words”.
But in 2021, the saviour of freedom of speech, the Union government of India has taken matters into its own hands. It has proposed an amendment to the Cinematograph Act,1952.
A clause from the proposed amendments that stands out the most is that the Union government can direct the Central Board of Film Certification to reconsider the certificate it has issued if the film doesn’t conform to the guiding principles under section 5B(1).
Under the section, CBFC cannot certify media content that goes against the “interests of the sovereignty and integrity of the State, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence”.
Filmmakers have proposed a petition against the act which has already garnered 1400 votes.
The petition as retaliation from the film fraternity is not a surprise at all. Film certification boards in countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom are extremely flexible when it comes to certifying films. The Indian Film certification board does seem archaic but with the involvement of the lens of the Union government, it will become a greater hindrance to creativity.
There wouldn’t be a “Firaaq” where a state suffers the consequences of a religious riot or a “Parched” where a lesbian relationship blossoms in a village. All there would be are attempts at banking the soft power of Bollywood with creative freedom lost in the chaos.
The archaic and sometimes dicey nature of the CBFC does not mean that the Union government is welcome to the party. The Union government already has a say in who becomes a member of the advisory panel or a regional officer. Increasing the power of the Union government here butchers creative freedom.
India has only two religions: Cinema and Cricket.
The former is in grave danger.