Filmmakers worried over amendments to Cinematograph Act


New Delhi: Last month, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had proposed a number of amendments to the Cinematograph Act of 1952. The suggested changes acknowledge long-standing issues such as piracy and age-based certification. However, a large number of people have raised concerns about the amendments, such as the legality and necessity for the said amendments, as well as what role the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) will take after these amendments take place.

Currently, films in India are granted one of four certificates based on the appropriate audience for the film. These certificates are based on the “age-appropriateness” of the film and are as follows; U (Unrestricted) meant for films suitable to those of all ages; U/A (Parental Guidance) for films suitable for children above the age of 12; A (Adults) for films suitable only for adults, and S (Special) which is meant for special categories and is rarely used. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting recommended dividing the UA category into three further categories, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, and U/A 16+. “These are important changes,” said a source from the CBFC. “A large number of people do not check the age certification when going to a film, and as a result we end up having children running around in cinema halls which are showing films far too mature for them. It’s not simply about sexual content, it also includes violence, foul language, and substances. Children should not be allowed to watch A-rated films. There is also an aspect of parental guidance when it comes to age related classification.” Another point in proposal involves granting film certification for perpetuity, as opposed to 10-year certification model currently in use.

The government has also suggested adding Section 6AA to the Cinematograph Act—echoing a similar proposal back in 2019— targeting piracy. The original proposal back in 2019 read: “Notwithstanding any law for the time being in force, no person shall,without the written authorization of the author, be permitted to use any audiovisualrecording device in a place to knowingly make or transmit or attempt to make ortransmit or abet the making or transmission of a copy of a film or a part thereof.” Under the proposed amendment, those who are caught in the act of piracy can be punished with a minimum sentence of three months in prison, extendable for up to three years. A minimum fine of up to Rs 3 lakh may also be imposed, which can be increased up to 5% of the audited gross production cost of the film.

The final proposed amendment is to Section 6(1), which would allow the government to direct the CBFC to reevaluate the film and alter the certification it previously granted, if the film is question is in violation of Section 5B (1) of the Cinematograph Act of 1952. Section 6(1) was deemed unconstitutional and was struck down by the Karnataka High Court in the case of K.M. Shankarappa v Union of India (1990), and the decision was upheld by SC of India after being challenged in 2001.

“More than 20,000 films are certified by the CBFC each year— across formats, genres, and languages—out of which barely 0.3% are either re-evaluated or are up for dissent or debate,” said CBFC Board member Vani Tripathi Tikoo. “If the government sends back a film for reevaluation, it will be sent to the CBFC itself. This one additional step by the government will not make the CBFC irrelevant. We cannot be looking at modern cinema through a lens made in 1952. There needs to be more transparency in the certification process, but the Act is crying for an amendment.”

“The CBFC takes into account all possible fallouts of a film before certifying it and identifies all ‘impact zones’ of the film, so to send a thoroughly examined film back for re-examination is extraordinary,” a CBFC source said.

Filmmakers feel that these amendments would give the government more power over the film industry and would allow them to prevent the release of films they consider to be in violation of Section 5B (1). Many filmmakers have signed an open letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, suggesting changes to the amendments. Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj wrote: “A few months back, the tribunal court in the film certification process was abolished. The reason given was that if a filmmaker is not satisfied with the certification board or a revision committee’s decision, they can challenge the verdict in courts. Why can’t the same reason be applied to the supposedly aggrieved member of the public who has problems with a film? Why is the autonomy of the board of film certification being diluted? What’s the purpose or motive behind it?”