India’s controversial Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has accepted recommendations by a government-appointed committee headed by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal to introduce more categories in its film classification system and to allow online certification of films, reported Hindustan Times on 9 November 2016.
Benegal’s committee submitted a report that would re-structure the over 60-year-old 1952 Cinematography Act to introduce more ratings categories to avoid the CBFC making cuts, thus allowing more films to be screened in their original form. The committee was put in place after allegations had been raised that the CBFC, under chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, had been stifling artistic freedom.
New classification categories
Currently, movies with adult content are classified into three categories: A (adult viewing), U (universal viewing), U/A (viewing with adult supervision for children aged below 12) and S (restricted to any special class of persons).
The new classification recommendations would sub-divide some of the categories into the following new categories: UA12+ (viewing with adult supervision for children aged above 12), UA15+ (viewing with adult supervision for children aged above 15), and A/C (adult viewing with caution).
Pornographic fims, along with films that hurt religious sentiments or pose a danger to national security, will not be eligible for certification.
Swirling controversy around CBFC
Criticism of Nihalani’s CBFC came to a head in June 2016, when the board called for up to 94 cuts to controversial film ‘Udta Punjab’, a film that depicts drug use in the northern Indian state of Punjab. The film’s producer challenged the decision in court and ultimately was allowed to release the film with only one cut.
‘Udta Punjab’ was just another in a long line of examples that highlight the censoring streak the CBFC has been on ever since Nihalani became chair in January 2015, often drawing criticism and making headlines for its decisions and cuts to foreign and domestic films.
The board’s decisions include cutting scenes of nudity and love-making, violence and profanity, and content that has political or religious subtexts. One particular set of cuts that drew ridicule was the trimming of kissing scenes by half in the last James Bond movie ‘Spectre’ in November 2015.
Establishment of the committee
The controversy has led to critics calling for a reform in how the CBFC operates, leading the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to set up the Benegal-led committee in January 2016 to look into how the CBFC functions with the purpose of recommending changes.
In late April 2016, the committee submitted its report that included suggested amendments to the 1952 Cinematograph Act. Among the recommendations are that the CBFC should only act as a film certification body that categorises films according to audience suitability based on age and maturity, and that the rating system should have more categories.
The report also makes recommendations on the conduct of the chairman, saying that they should not be involved in “day-to-day affairs of certification”, but rather act as a “guiding mechanism”, and that members of the Examining Committee should not be appointed by the government.
The recently agreed-upon recommendations will be sent to the ministry for approval, which will be implemented only after amendments have been officially made to the Cinematography Act. The CBFC will also let the ministry know its concerns over certain recommendations, a source told the newspaper.
» PTI – 9 November 2016:
CBFC agrees to Benegal committee recommendations on more
» Hindustan Times – 9 November 2016:
No more cuts? Censor board clears new ratings to allow adult content in films
» India TV – 8 November 2016:
Relief for filmmakers? New rules on anvil could clip CBFC’s wings, do away with power to chop scenes
» PTI – 27 October 2016:
Govt working on changing law on censor board: Naidu
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