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Insights into Editorial: Do we need a film censor?


Insights into Editorial: Do we need a film censor?





India has the largest film industry in the world, making over 1250 feature films and larger number of short films every year. At a rough estimate, a total of about 15 million people see films in India every day, either at its over 13,000 cinema houses or on the video cassette recorder or on the cable system. Thus, every two months, an audience as large as India ’s entire population flocks to its cinema houses.

Films can be publicly exhibited in India only after they have been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification. Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) is a statutory body under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, regulating the public exhibition of films under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act 1952. However, in the last few months several filmmakers have complained of arbitrary “suggested” cuts or objections by CBFC.


Film certification in India:

The Cinematograph Act, 1952, apart from including provisions relating to Constitution and functioning of the CBFC or the Central Board of Film Certification (called the Central Board of Film Censors before 1983), also lays down the guidelines to be followed by certifying films. Initially, there were only two categories of certificate – “U” (unrestricted public exhibition) and “A” (restricted to adult audiences), but two other categories were added in June, 1983 – “UA” (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). The 1952 Act has been amended time to time to make it up to date. Still the Act has become dated and Central Govt. is actively considering to replace the 1952 Act with a new one.

The present certification of films is governed by the 1952 Act, the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules promulgated in 1983 and the Guidelines issued there under from time to time, the latest having been issued on December 6, 1991. The Guidelines are issued under section 5B of the Act, which says that “a film shall not be certified for public exhibition, if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the States, friendly relations with foreign State, public order, decency or morality or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence”.


Why is film certification necessary?

  • While the media in our country are free, it is considered necessary in the general interest to examine the product when it goes out for public consumption. While there is no certification of published material, need was felt to have certification for films because of the effect that the audio-visual medium can have on the people which can be far stronger than the influence of the printed word, particularly on the impressionable minds of the children.
  • Film certification is thus the end product of the process of previewing of film and it includes a decision either not to allow a particular film or public viewing or to allow it for public viewing with certain deletions and / or modifications or at least proper categorization of the films. Furthermore, it is to ensure that the children do not get exposed to psychologically damaging matter.
  • The Supreme Court in a judgment in 1989 said that film certification becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed words.
  • The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi-darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has as much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or good behavior. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Certification by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary.


Arguments against film censorship:

The name of the Central Board of Film Censors was changed to the Central Board of Film Certification in 1983 and that pretty much explains the responsibility of the CBFC, which is to certify films according to age. The ratings are meant to indicate the category under which the films are certified as U, UA, S, and A. Thus, as long as films are certified, censorship should be avoided.

  • Also, the rules are old. The Indian value system has changed since these rules were first framed.
  • Besides, censorship places unfettered discretion on authorities. This also hurts individual creativity.


Reforms in this regard:

The Indian government has made two half-hearted attempts to deal with the situation by appointing commissions to review the process of censorship. The Mukul Mudgal Committee Report (2013) was found inadequate and rightly consigned to the dustbin. The hype then shifted to the recently-formed Shyam Benegal Committee (2016) on film censorship. Given the fact that eminent film personalities were on the committee there was hope that at least, this time, the issue would be addressed with the seriousness it deserved but the final report has belied all expectations.

The broad themes of the report suggested that henceforth the focus will be on certification and not censorship; that the numbers of members of the CBFC will be reduced from 25 to 9; and that the categories of certification will be increased by two — one for minors and one for adults.


What needs to be done?

India is a diverse society. There will always be grievances from some section of civil society. And yes, we need an arbitration mechanism to address a wide range of concerns. We need a multi-layered solution to the absurd censorship regime in India.

  • The industry must set up the Film Council of India to deal with civil society grievances. The CBFC’s scope must be limited to certification, with no powers to maim, mutilate or ban any film.
  • For any film it finds ‘objectionable’, the CBFC should refer it to the Film Certification Tribunal. The tribunal comprising retired judges, lawyers, filmmakers, writers and artists must become the sole forum for a considered dialogue with the filmmaker concerning any ‘censorship’ of their work.



Certification is a dynamic process and one which is likely to change as society changes and evolves. For now, the government is in the process of examining the recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee. A comprehensive policy in this regard is the need of the hour.