INDIAN CINEMA POLICY AND CENSORSHIPNergal Scott
Bollywood continues to be an interesting place, both on and off screen. Even as the many controversies continues to simmer with Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani sending out a circular to all Regional Offices (ROs) at the Censors, listing words and phrases that he felt were objectionable, abusive and worthy of being deleted from films. While there were 36 English and Hindi references of banned cuss words, the list also ordered deletion of ‘double-meaning words’, use of the word ‘Bombay’, glorification of bloodshed and of course ‘violence against women’. After much furore of angry protests against the appointment of Pahalaj Nihalani as the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification and his arbitrary decisions (obviously to please the government that gifted him with this appointment) and the adamant attitude adopted by the government to justify the appointment, some wisdom prevailed at last and a committee was appointed to revamp the Board under the chairmanship of renowned film director Shyam Benegal. The relationship of films and Censor Board — as the CBFC is popularly called — is not a cosy one.
In fact, the word censor is enough to evoke turbulence in the film world. So, when Benegal cleared the confusion by stating that the Board was not here to cut the films but to certify them, it provides for a solace to some extent. Freedom is a sacred concept and it comes with a certain sense of responsibility so that the society can breathe in a peaceful atmosphere.
Hence, freedom does lay certain rules and regulations of behaviour, of language to be used. The CBFC is one such effort by the democratic government to ensure that this kind of responsibility is taken care of by filmmakers. Yet, the debate goes on forever as to whether there should be a Censor Board or not? Whenever a film is denied a ‘U’ certificate, the film-maker starts arguing that the Board is not needed at all. Recently, director Prakash Jha had been in the news for the same reason. Jha was asked for several cuts in his film Jai Gangajal, due for release in March. While dealing with this issue, one cannot proceed without considering the nature of the Indian society. It is a multi-layered society, divided by castes and classes, religions and languages, traditions, ideologies and political inclinations. While singing the song of ‘Unity in Diversity’ each community is at loggerheads with another one.
It is impossible to please all the people at the same time and one has to eliminate some units in order to cater to the taste of another. Film fraternity is well aware of this fact. And this very nature of the society makes the task of the CBFC difficult. One more problem is increasingly troubling the filmmakers and the CBFC seems to be helpless about it. Self-proclaimed censorships are wildly at work and you cannot say which community, class or party will raise objection and try to ban a film, even after it is duly certified by the CBFC. There is no control on these self proclaimed censorships because there is no political and administrative will to curb such practices.
In fact, they are often covertly or even overtly inspired and encouraged by political parties and many a time even by irresponsible statements by our members of parliament. The funniest part of the whole episode is when protesters threaten law and order on streets and ravage theatres, most of the time the police do not play the role they are supposed to – providing security to the film certified for public viewing by a government-appointed body.
Having said that, the physical pressure to provide security to hundreds of theatres where the film is released is understandable, the fact remains that it is the duty of the police to give protection. Recognising and surrendering to such self-proclaimed censorships is an insult to the Censor Board and the government which has appointed it. This should be dealt with strongly. One vital aspect needs to be dealt with and that is the way members are appointed on the CBFC. It is a sort of accepted fact that whichever political party comes to power at the Centre, appoints people who endorse and support the party’s ideology, to various government bodies. For the time being, let us keep aside the whole issue of political appointment, but what about the merit of these members? Do they qualify to judge a film, a creative work? The usual argument would be put forth that the members are not supposed to be experts on the art of filmmaking. No one expects them to be one but at the same time, one cannot neglect the fact that they judge work of art and hence they must have some knowledge of the medium of cinema. And the most important aspect which I do not think has been taken into consideration all these years is the utterly mesmerising impact of the medium of cinema which no other art form can compete with.
Many a times, the audience just get carried away with this powerful medium. Hence, utmost care has to be taken while appointing members who do not get carried away by whatever unfolds in front of them on the screen, understand it and then pass the judgement. At the same time, it has to be looked into whether they are really aware of the social changes taking place from time to time or are they themselves prone to provocations and at times tend to suggest very ridiculous cuts too, thereby exposing their own ignorance of the art form? Norms of morality change with the time, as also the mindset of the people.With such a state of affairs, the issue of censorship of films is bound to remain unsolved. Well, we the people of India have to live with this fact. And that is what Shyam Benegal stated when he was appointed to review the functioning of the Censor Board and to make it devoid of controversies as information and broadcasting minister Arun Jaitley expects: “From time to time, things do become controversial and sometimes they don’t. There won’t be any permanent solution. It is a continuing thing.”