Central Board of Film Certification
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|Formation||15 January 1951|
|Ministry of Information and Broadcasting|
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), also known as the Censor Board, is a statutory censorship and classification body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. It is tasked with "regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952." Films screened in cinemas, as well as films shown only on television, may be in publicly exhibited in India only after they are certified by the Board. The Central Board of Film Certification is regularly associated with scandals, blamed for thought policing and being right-wing dominated.
Though the first film in India (Raja Harishchandra) was produced in 1913 by Dadasaheb Phalke, the Indian Cinematograph Act was passed and came into effect only in 1920. Censor Boards (as they were called then) were placed under police chiefs in cities of Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata), Lahore (now in Pakistan) and Rangoon (now Yangon in Myanmar). Regional censors were independent. After Independence the autonomy of regional censors was abolished and they were brought under the Bombay Board of Film Censors. With the implementation of Cinematograph Act, 1927, the Board was unified and reconstituted, as the Central Board of Film Censors in 1952. Cinematograph (Certification) Rules were revised in 1983 and since then the Central Board of Film Censors has been known as the Central Board of Film Certification.
The Central Board of Film Certification shall ensure a film is: 1) judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact; 2) examined in the light of the period depicted in the films and the contemporary standards of the country and the people to which the film relates provided that the film does not affect the morality of the audience; 3) not provocative, vulgar, offensive or violates any of the "guidelines for certification."
Certificates and censorship
Films are certified under 4 categories. Initially, there were only two categories of certificates – "U" (unrestricted public exhibition) and "A" (restricted to adult audiences). Two more categories were added in June 1983 – "U/A" (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve) and "S" (restricted to specialized audiences such as doctors or scientists). Instead of awarding a film with one of these four certifications, the Board may also refuse to certify it.
- U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition)
- Films with the U certification are fit for unrestricted public exhibition and are family-friendly. These films can contain universal themes like education, family, drama, romance, sci-fi, action, etc. Now, these films can also contain some mild violence, but it should not be prolonged. They may also show very mild erotic scenes (without any traces of nudity or sexual detail).
- U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years)
- Films with the U/A certification can contain moderate adult themes, that are not strong in nature and can be watched by a child under parental guidance. These films may contain moderate to strong violence, moderate erotic scenes (very little traces of nudity and moderate sexual detail), frightening scenes or muted abusive and foul language.
- A (Restricted to adults)
- Films with the A certification are available for public exhibition, but with restriction to adults. These films can contain brutally strong violence, depiction of sex acts (but full frontal and rear nudity is usually not allowed), strong abusive language (but words which insult or degrade women are not allowed), and even some controversial and adult themes considered unsuitable for young viewers. Such films are often re-certified for TV and video viewing, which doesn't happen in the case of U and U/A certified movies.
- S (Restricted to any special class of persons)
- Films with S certification should not be viewed by the public. Only people associated with the field (engineers, doctors, scientists, etc.), have permission to watch those films.
Additionally, V/U, V/UA V/A is used for video releases with U, U/A and A carrying the same meaning as above.
- Refusal to certify
- Instead of granting one of the categories, there is also the possibility of the Board refusing to certify the film at all.
Guidelines for certification
- anti-social activities such as violence may not be glorified or justified
- the modus operandi of criminals, other visuals or words likely to incite the commission of any offense may not be depicted;
- material that includes the following is rejected - a) involvement of children in violent acts either as victims or as perpetrators or as forced witnesses to violence, or showing children as being subjected to any form of child abuse. b) showing abuse or ridicule against physically and/or mentally handicapped persons, and c) unnecessary depictions of cruelty towards animals and their abuse.
- pointless or avoidable scenes of violence, cruelty, and horror, scenes of violence primarily intended to provide entertainment. Such scenes should not be shown given they can cause viewers' desensitization to violence and dehumanization;
- scenes which have the effect of justifying or glorifying alcohol consumption are not to be shown;
- scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorize drug addiction are not to be shown;
- scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorize consumption or smoking of tobacco are not to be shown;
- human sensibilities must not be offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity;
- double-ententes which manifestly cater to the baser instincts are not allowed;
- scenes depicting degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not to be presented;
- scenes involving sexual violence against women like an attempt to rape, rape, or any form of molestation, or scenes of similar nature should be avoided, and in case any such incidence is germane to the theme, it shall be reduced to the minimum and no details shall be revealed;
- scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided but when such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details shall be revealed;
- visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other social groups are not to be presented;
- visuals or words which promote sectarian, obscurantist, anti-scientific and anti-national attitudes shall not be used;
- the sovereignty and integrity of India shall not be called in question;
- the security of the State must not be jeopardized or put in danger;
- friendly relations with foreign States should not be affected;
- public order must not be endangered;
- visuals or words involving defamation of an individual or a body of individuals, or contempt of court, are not to be presented. EXPLANATION: Scenes that tend to cause scorn, disgrace or disregard to the rule of law or undermine the dignity of the court will be treated as ''Contempt of Court'': and
- national symbols and emblems are not to be shown except in accordance with the provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 (12 of 1950)
Since 2004, censorship has been enforced rigorously. Incidents were reported in which the exhibitors' staff - a booking clerk who sold the ticket, the usher who allowed minors have a seat, a theatre manager and the partners to the theatre complex - were arrested for non-compliance with certification rules.
Composition and leadership
The Board consists of 25 non-ranking members and a chairperson (all of whom are appointed by the Central Government). Prasoon Joshi currently presides over the board, being appointed the 28th Chairperson of the Board on 11 August 2017, after the ouster of Pahlaj Nihalani, who was appointed Leela Samson's successor after the latter vacated the chair as a consequence of CBFC's refusal to issue certification to the film MSG: Messenger of God was overturned by an appellate tribunal. Earlier, Leela Samson had succeeded Sharmila Tagore. Nihalani was the 27th chairperson since the Board's establishment. His appointment was highly controversial given his propensity for censoring films instead of issuing them with a rating certificate.
The Board operates from its headquarters in Mumbai. It has nine regional offices, located respectively in:
The regional offices are assisted in the examination of films by Advisory Panels. Members of the panels are nominated by the Central Government for 2 year periods, drawing from people of diverse backgrounds.
Chairpersons of the CBFC
|1||C S Aggarwal||15 January 1951||14 June 1954|
|2||B D Mirchandani||15 June 1954||9 June 1955|
|3||M D Bhatt||10 June 1955||21 November 1959|
|4||D L Kothari||22 November 1959||24 March 1960|
|5||B D Mirchandani||25 March 1960||1 November 1960|
|6||D L Kothari||2 November 1960||22 April 1965|
|7||B P Bhatt||23 April 1965||22 April 1968|
|8||R P Nayak||31 April 1968||15 November 1969|
|9||M V Desai||12 December 1969||19 October 1970|
|10||Brig. R. Streenivasan||20 October 1970||15 November 1971|
|11||Virendra Vyas||11 February 1972||30 June 1976|
|12||K L Khandpur||1 July 1976||31 January 1981|
|13||Hrishikesh Mukherjee||1 February 1981||10 August 1982|
|14||Aparna Mohile||11 August 1982||14 March 1983|
|15||Sharad Upasani||15 March 1983||9 May 1983|
|16||Surresh Mathur||10 May 1983||7 July 1983|
|17||Vikram Singh||8 July 1983||19 February 1989|
|18||Moreshwar Vanmali||20 February 1989||25 April 1990|
|19||B P Singhal||25 April 1990||1 April 1991|
|20||Shakti Samanta||1 April 1991||25 June 1998|
|21||Asha Parekh||25 June 1998||25 September 2001|
|22||Vijay Anand||26 September 2001||19 July 2002|
|23||Arvind Trivedi||20 July 2002||16 October 2003|
|24||Anupam Kher||16 October 2003||13 October 2004|
|25||Sharmila Tagore||13 October 2004||31 March 2011|
|26||Leela Samson||1 April 2011||16 January 2015|
|27||Pahlaj Nihalani||19 January 2015||11 August 2017|
|28||Prasoon Joshi||12 August 2017||Incumbent|
CBFC has been associated with various scandals. Movie producers reportedly bribe the CBFC to get 'U' certificate entitling them to a 30% exemption in entertainment tax, notwithstanding the violent scenes and coarse script.
In 2002, the film War and Peace which depicted scenes of nuclear testing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, created by Anand Patwardhan, was ruled to undergo 21 cuts before the approval to release the picture could given. Patwardhan objected, saying "The cuts that they asked for are so ridiculous that they won't hold up in court" and "But if these cuts do make it, it will be the end of freedom of expression in the Indian media." The court ruled the cuts requirement unconstitutional and the film was shown uncut. In the same year, Indian filmmaker and former chief of the country's film censor board, Vijay Anand, stirred a controversy by proposing to legalize the exhibition of X-rated films in selected cinemas across the country, saying "Porn is shown everywhere in India clandestinely ... and the best way to fight this onslaught of blue movies is to show them openly in theatres with legally authorized licenses". He resigned within a year after taking charge of the censor board after facing widespread criticism of his moves.
In 2003, CBFC banned the film Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror), a film on Indian transsexuals produced and directed by Sridhar Rangayan. The Censor Board cited that the film was "vulgar and offensive". The director appealed twice against its decision but to no avail. The film still remains banned in India, but was screened at numerous film festivals worldwide and has won prizes. Critics have applauded it for its "sensitive and touching portrayal of marginalised community".
In 2004, the documentary Final Solution, which looks at inter-communal riots between Hindus and Muslims, was banned. The film follows the 2002 clashes in the western state of Gujarat, which left more than 1,000 people dead. The Censor Board justified the ban, saying the film was "highly provocative and may trigger off unrest and communal violence". The ban was lifted in October 2004 after a sustained campaign.
In 2006, seven states (Nagaland, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) banned the release and exhibition of the Hollywood movie The Da Vinci Code (including the book), even though the CBFC approved the film for adult viewing throughout India. The respective high courts subsequently lifted the ban and the movie was shown in the two states (which?).
The CBFC demanded five cuts from the 2011 American film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of some scenes containing rape and nudity. The producers and the director David Fincher eventually decided not to release the film in India.
A CEO of CBFC was arrested in August 2014 for accepting bribes for speedy clearance.
In 2015, the CBFC demanded four cuts (three visual and one audio) from the art-house Malayalam feature film Chaayam Poosiya Veedu (The Painted House) directed by brothers Santosh Babusenan and Satish Babusenan, because of scenes involving nudity of the lead actress. The directors refused to make any changes whatsoever, therefore a certificate for their film was denied.
Chairperson of CBFC Leela Samson resigned, alleging political interference after the CBFC's refusal to grant certification to the film MSG: Messenger of God was overturned by an appellate tribunal. She was later replaced by Pahlaj Nihalani. The resignation of the former chair and the installation of the latter resulted in further resignations with more than half the board members' quitting, amid rising concerns as to Pahlaj Nihalani's proximity to the ruling party of the day.
In 2016, the film Udta Punjab, produced, amongst others, by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor, ran into trouble with the CBFC resulting in a very public re-examination of the ethics of film censorship in India. The film, which depicted a structural drug problem in the state of Punjab, makes free use of vulgar language laden with expletives and showed explicit scenes of illegal substance abuse. The CBFC, on 9 June 2016, issued a list of 94 cuts and 13 pointers, including the order to remove city names located in Punjab. On 13 June, the film was approved for release by the Bombay High Court with one cut and disclaimers. The court ruled that, contrary to the claims of the CBFC, the film was not out to "malign" the state of Punjab, and that it "wants to save people". Afterwards, the film came to face further controversy when its copy was leaked online on a torrent site. The print quality of the leaked copy along with the presence of a supposed watermark consisting of the word "censor" at the top of the screen, raised suspicions that the CBFC itself might have had leaked the copy to spite the filmmakers. The leaked material included the scene that had been cut in accordance with the High Court order. While the CBFC claimed innocence, the lingering suspicion saw the film released in a tense atmosphere, with the filmmakers and numerous freedom of expression advocates taking to social media and appealing to the broad public to go and see the film in theatres, as a form of conscious protest against excessive art censorship in India. Kashyap himself asked fans to wait with downloading it for free until the official release date, stating that he didn't have a problem with illegal downloads, an unusual thing for a film producer to say. The film eventually the and grossed over $13 million finishing as a commercial success. In August 2017, soon after his removal from the position of CBFC's Chief, Nihalani revealed in an interview that he had received instructions from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to block the release.
In 2017, the film Lipstick Under My Burkha directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha, was another one to have run into trouble with the CBFC which refused to certify the film for distribution, stating that "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society." Internationally, the film had been screened at over 35 film festivals worldwide and notably it earned eleven international awards prior to its official release in India, having become an eligible entry for the Golden Globe Award Ceremony. The filmmakers appealed against this decision to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which overruled the censor board's ruling, thereby granting the film theatrical release rights. FCAT requested the filmmakers to make some cuts, mostly related to the sex scenes, at their own discretion. The film was released with an "A" or adults certificate, equivalent to an NC-17 rating in the United States, including some voluntary edits. Shrivastava told Agence-France Presse: "Of course I would have loved no cuts, but the FCAT has been very fair and clear. I feel that we will be able to release the film without hampering the narrative or diluting its essence."
In August 2017, Pahlaj Nahalani was terminated as the Chairperson of the CBFC. In an interview days after his removal, he revealed that in at least two instances the Government of India had issued direct instructions to the Board on the matter of blocking or delaying the release of particular films.
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