This article on ‘LAW OF FILM CENSORSHIP IN INDIA: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS‘ is written by Sukriti Chowdhury, a 2nd year student from Faculty of Law, University of Lucknow and an intern at Legal Upanishad.
India acquires the globe’s biggest film industry in account of the number of films released, with between 1,500 to 2,000 films released yearly in more than 20 languages. Such a wide spectrum of content brings a fair amount of concerns as well. Everybody is free to make a film and release it anywhere in India. This freedom is also not absolute just like other freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and is subject to certain restrictions.
There is a law specifically that ensures that films meet the standards set by the law and must go through a legal process of certification and censorship before reaching the public’s eyes. However, this legal process has resulted in some incidences of content being banned or censored from public exhibitions. The question is- whether the law truly trying to draw a line, or is it just an age-old practice that needs to be updated to keep up with the times? To answer such questions, this article tries to elaborate on the laws related to the film censorship in India.
WHAT IS CENSORSHIP?
“Censorship” emerges from the Latin word “censere,” whose literal sense is “to express our thought.” A census was conducted by two Roman administrators to regulate citizens’ demeanor and ethics in ancient Rome.
Its scope comprises publications, journals, magazines, radio, television, films, plays, paintings, dramas, speech, dance forms, artistry, literature, photography, dance, letters, emails, and websites that are offensive, immoral, vulgar, or excessively sexual.
WHAT IS CENSORSHIP OF FILMS?
Both films and the press possess the same rights and liberties in terms of fundamental freedoms about the expression of thought and the exchange of ideas and beliefs. The Fundamental right enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) ensures to everyone, including the press, freedom of speech and expression. As a result, because they are non-absolute in nature, both of these mediums (The Press and Films) are regulated under this provision of the Constitution.
The Cinematograph Act of 1952 ensures that films meet the standards required by law. The Act establishes a “Central Board of Film Certification,” India’s film regulating body, which will issue a certificate to the filmmakers for public exhibition. According to the legislation, after subjecting the film to examination, the Board may:
(a) Approve the film for public display without restrictions;
(b) Authorize the film for an adult-restricted public exhibition;
(c) No-matter whether the films are restricted to adults or open to all, guide such changes in the film pre- licensing it for any public exhibition, and
(d) Denial to allow the public exhibition of the film.
Case Laws related to Film Censorship in India
K.A. Abbas v. Union of India may be the foremost case to address the problem of film censorship in India. The Supreme Court addressed an intriguing matter of pre-censorship in light of the fundamental right to freedom under Article 19(1)(a). In the decision, it was held that film censorship, comprising pre-censorship in India was legal because it is a reasonable restriction.
The right of the spectators in terms of information has not been ignored by the judiciary. Freedom of being informed is, intrinsic to freedom of speech. A hearer can only avail information, only if a speaker communicates it. In the case of Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting v. Bengal Cricket Association, the Supreme Court declared that freedom of speech comprises the “right to hold the knowledge and impart the same to the citizens.” As a result, Article 19(1)(a) comprises the right of spectators.
In S. Rangrajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Supreme Court interpreted Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution to address the problem of film censorship in India. Due to popular outrage, the ‘U’ certificate was canceled which prohibited the screening of a film titled “Ore Oru Gramathile“. The Tamil Nadu government’s reservation policy was criticized in the film. While the case was pending, the film got a National Award from the Indian Government. The reservation policy was critically analyzed in the movie as it was caste-based and discriminatory to the Brahmins. The SC declared that a democratic government is exercised by the people through open discussions and the reality is that public discussion on administrative matters has a positive impact.
In F.A. Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification, the High Court of Bombay overruled the FCAT’s ruling regarding censorship of the film named ‘Chand Bujh Gaya,’ opining: “In a free and open society censorship can be regarded within the strictest plausible boundaries and stringently within the confines which are envisaged in democratic institutions.”
In Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon, often regarded as the Bandit Queen case, the Supreme Court recognized the freedom of speech via films and overturned expletive restrictions concerning the screening of the movie “Bandit Queen“. The court opined: “The film must be assessed in its totality. When the film’s purpose is to denounce female exploitation, violence, and rape, depictions of nudity and rape, as well as the use of expletives, are acceptable to further the film’s purpose by evoking disgust against the offenders and sympathy for the victim.”
The Central Board of Film Certification needs to be reformed immediately. The initiative to modify certification ages and put filmmakers and industrial interests in charge of the System is a necessary change that must be implemented as soon as possible.
The Central Government established a Committee and charged it with examining and recommending proposals for legislation that would regulate, certify, and license the various aspects of this advancing and ambitious art form. The following principles were proposed by the Committee as a guideline for certifying the films:-
- The medium should remain accountable and sympathetic to societal norms and standards, and the film should be of quantifiable merit and exhibit maximum quality to the possible extent.
- Excessive restrictions on certification for artistic endeavors should be avoided and should be flexible enough to accommodate transformations.
- The overall impact of the film on the country’s social and economic standards should be considered, along with the backdrop, the underlying issue, and also to the people the film is addressed to.
- Regardless of the aforementioned, a film should not be exhibited if the Board believes that it is disadvantageous under various grounds mentioned under a reasonable restriction of Fundamental right to freedom.
The right to expression must be balanced against the obligation to keep the peace in society. A proper mechanism should be adopted while adjudging a film to be subject to censorship or not, ensuring that a balance is maintained between freedom of expression and protection and security of society is safeguarded.
It would also be beneficial if laws for film censorship in India were to undergo significant modifications to adapt to the current progressive and modern culture, in which every home has access to the internet, and even a 10-year-old child may access all sorts of content available online. Filmmakers, on the other hand, must endeavor to create ways for films to cope with challenging themes while remaining sensational and not contentious.
- F.A. Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification, AIR 2005 Bom. 145.
- G, V. (2020). A Critical Analysis on Film Censorship in India Cinema and its Challenges. IJLMH, 481-491. Retrieved from https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/A-Critical-Analysis-on-Censorship-Issues-in-Indian-Cinema-Its-Challenges.pdf
- K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, 2 SCC 780 (1970).
- Mathew, S. (n.d.). Film Censorship in India. Legal Service India E-Journal. Retrieved from https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-351-censorship-of-films.html
- Pathak, D. (2017, March). Understanding India’s Dangerous History Of Film Censorship in India & Its Implications. Retrieved from www.homegrown.co.in/understanding-indias-dangerous-history-of-film-censorship-and-its-implications
- S. Rangrajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, 2 S.C.C. 574 (1989).
- Sarkar, S. (n.d.). Banning Films or Article 19(1)(a). Legal Services India. Retrieved from http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/fban.htm.
- Secretary, Ministry of I & Bv. Cricket Association of Bengal, 2 SCC 161. (1995).
- SUKANTA K. NANDA, J. (2015). MEDIA FREEDOM, FILM CENSORSHIP IN INDIA AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – AN EVALUATION.IJSTM, Volume No.4,Issue No.1, 77-84. Retrieved from http://www.ijstm.com/images/short_pdf/1422000190_P77-83.pdf
- Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon (1996) 4 SCC 1.