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Central Board Of Film Certification: The Law And The Controversy

Going to theaters and watching movies is something we all love. If not in theaters, we all have watched movies on our television sets for sure with our families and friends.

‘Cinema is the mirror of the society’. It is one of the strongest tools available, understood and enjoyed by all sections of the society whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate alike. However, this strongest form of media passes through a board, a regulatory body, before it reaches the audience.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body formed under the Cinematograph Act,1952. It is the board which regulates, certifies and even censors the movies before it reaches the audience. However, in recent times the role of the board has come under scrutiny because of its arbitrary way of functioning and refusal to grant certificate to certain films which were later given a clean chit by the court. Thus, it is very important to study in detail the powers and functions of the Central Board of Film Certification with reference to the Cinematograph Act,1952 because this area of interaction of media and law affects everyone’s life.

The main concept under which the Central Board of Film Certification refuses to grant certificates to films or suggests certain changes to the films before they can be certified is Censorship. Censorship can be defined as the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient" as determined by a government or private institution etc. In India, censorship involves issues of freedom of speech and expression which has been protected and guaranteed by the Constitution of India. However, given the history of regional, religious and communal diversity in India, the freedom of speech and expression has certain reasonable restrictions upon it which in turn allow for censorship.

The section 5A of the Cinematograph Act,1952 provides that any person who wishes to exhibit a film should make an application to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for certification. The Central Board of Film Certification may grant U, U/A, A or S certificates to the film which determines the audience of the film to a major extent. The Board can also suggest modifications and may also altogether refuse to allow the public exhibition of the film.

Section 5B of the Act says that the board can refuse to certify a film if it is “against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the 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”[1]. These restrictions are similar to restrictions on right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.

In order to meet the guidelines of the Government of India, the Central Board of Film Certification tries to ensure that films do not contain:

  1. scenes that glorify / justify activities such as violence, drinking, smoking or drug addiction,

  2. scenes that denigrate women,

  3. scenes that involve sexual violence or depict sexual perversions, or

  4. scenes that show violence against children, among many others.

The Supreme Court in the case of Ramesh S/O Chotalal Dalal v. Union of India & Ors[2] has made following observations:-

“It is no doubt true that the motion picture is a powerful instrument with a much stronger impact on the visual and aural sense of the spectator than any other medium of communication… the potency of the motion picture is as much for good as for evil. If some senses of violence, some nuance of expression or some events in the film can stir up certain feelings in the spectator, an equally deep strong, lasting and beneficial impression can be conveyed by scenes revealing the machinations of selfish interests, scenes depicting mutual respect and tolerance, scenes showing comradeship, help and kindness which transcend the barriers of religion.” [3]

In order to ensure compliance with all of these rules and guidelines, the Board has enforced censorship rigorously. There have been a number of cases is past 2-3 years which have come into the limelight due to media attention given to them along with how the mode of social media has been used to raise the issue. Most controversial amongst them was regarding the film ‘Udta Punjab’[4] to which the Central Board of Film Certification had suggested 94 cuts and 13 pointers but the Bombay High court passed the film with just one cut. Another controversy was related to the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ which was refused a certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification but when the makers approached Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, release rights were granted though with some changes and an A certificate. Another controversy arose related to 2019 film ‘Thakeray’, the biopic of Bala Saheb Thakeray related to mention of Babri Masjid demolition and a reference to South Indian Community. However, the movie later got the certificate from Central Board of Film Certification.

The need of the hour is to realize that given the impact that media, especially films, have on the minds of the people and the society, the role played by the Central Board of Film Certification is very important. The Board has been entrusted with an important task and it is expected to fulfill its duties by maintaining a balance between the law and the society. Unnecessary censorship in the past few years has affected the name of Central Board of Film Certification by putting it in bad light. The way the courts and tribunals have over-ruled the decisions of the Board regarding censorship to certain films has further reaffirmed the negative rumors regarding the Board. The Board thus needs to work towards its duty and make prudent decisions in a way that the image of the Board is not affected. The Central Board of Film Certification needs to work as an independent body and make decisions in conformity with law and society by balancing the interests of the film makers as well as the audience.

Footnotes [1] Section 5B, the Cinematograph Act,1952 [2] Ramesh S/O Chotalal Dalal v. Union of India & Ors, 1988 AIR 775, 1988 SCR (2) 1011 [3] Ibid [4] Phantom Films Pvt Ltd and Ors. v The Central Board of Film Certification and Ors., Writ Petition (L) no. 1529, 2016(HC of Bombay)

Submitted by,

Megha Sahni,

University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU (main campus), Delhi.

(Image used for representational purpose only.)


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