The film industry’s campaign against the proposed Cinematograph Act 2021, giving the Centre powers to override the film certification board, has got support from actor-politician Kamal Haasan.
The proposed Act follows the scrapping of the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal, where appeals could be made against the decision of the certification board. Many filmmakers have opposed the move, doubting the intentions behind the amended law.
“Cinema, media and the literati can’t afford to be the three iconic monkeys of India. Please act, voice your concern for freedom and liberty,” Haasan tweeted.
The proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952 will give the Centre “revisionary powers” and enable it to “re-examine” films that have already been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification.
Many filmmakers have argued that the amended law will give the Centre powers that might threaten freedom of expression, a constitutional right. The Centre released the draft bill last week and sought comments, which will be accepted till July 2. The dissenting filmmakers have drafted a response, reports said.
The proposed Act seeks to reinstate Section 6 of the original Act, thus allowing the Centre to order recertification of already certified films following the receipt of complaints.
“Since the provisions of Section 5B(1) are derived from Article 19(2) of the Constitution that authorizes the government to impose reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of public order and are non-negotiable, it is also proposed in the Draft Bill to add a proviso to sub-section (1) of Section 6 to the effect that on receipt of any references by the Central government in respect of a film certified for public exhibition, on account of violation of Section 5B(1) of the Act, the Central government may, if it considers it necessary so to do, direct the Chairman of the Board to re-examine the film,” the notification said.
The latest example in the present controversy was the web series Tandav released earlier this year. Ali Abbas Zafar, the creator-director of the Amazon Prime web series, issued an unconditional apology after a series of FIRs were filed against its makers for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry had informed Zafar that it had received a “large number of grievances and petitions” related to “various facets of the web series with serious concerns and apprehensions”. So, he deleted the “objectionable” scenes and thanked the Ministry for its “guidance and support”.
As per Section 6, the Centre has the power to reverse the decision of the Censor Board. In 1990, Kannada filmmaker K.M. Shankarappa challenged it in court and won the case. Next year, the Supreme Court upheld the high court’s decision, effectively squashing the troubling provision in the 1952 Act. The present government’s decision, thus, will set the industry back by 30 years.
The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), the statutory body constituted to hear appeals of filmmakers aggrieved by Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) orders, was dissolved in April this year.
It means that, from now on, producers have to directly approach the High Court to address their grievances. FCAT was set up in 1983 under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
An instance, in this case, was in 2017, after CBFC refused to certify Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under my Burkha. The FCAT ordered the body to grant an ‘A’ certificate after suggesting a few edits.
On the same lines, the FCAT cleared the release of Kushan Nandy’s Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, after “eight minor, voluntary cuts.” The CBFC, then led by filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani, had ordered 48 cuts in the film after giving it an ‘A’ certificate, objecting to cuss words and certain scenes.