Censor Restrictions In Indian Cinema
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Media|
|✅ Wordcount: 5425 words||✅ Published: 4th May 2017|
The boundary within which artistic liberty swings has, historically, remained a debatable issue. Liberal democracies all over the world have recognised the need for reasonable restriction, though its boundaries are yet to be settled. In India cinema censorship appeared as an inevitable response to growing obscenity, restraint on the public morale being necessary for socio-cultural and political reasons. However, obscenity and lewdness having varying interpretations, censor decisions have remained a contentious issue. All efforts including judicial pronouncements, expert committee recommendations and periodic review of the censorship guidelines have fall short of settling the issue. The ongoing digital communication technology revolution has prompted a fresh debate on the relevance of cinema censorship in India. This paper attempts to review the legal and philosophical foundations of the concept to identify the reasonable limits of artistic expression in India, in the context of changing pubic moral and social patterns, and the ongoing digital communication technology revolutions.
If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!Essay Writing Service
A gloss over the existing literature on cinema revels that 'censorship' debate continues ever since cinema's emergence as a major mass entertainment industry, of course, the issue of contention keeps on changing. The battle over it is often fought as petty-bickering and yet at other times in terms of angry public furor at the overt or covert sexual obscenities. Though the polemics of Indian film censorship generally revolved round sleaze, sensuality, sexuality, nudity and permissiveness (Bhowmik, 2003:3148), excessive depiction of obscenity and lewdness is primarily seen as the reason for censorship becoming inevitable in India- restraint on the public moral being necessary for socio-cultural, political, national security reasons. But, obscenity being perceptual and having different nuances of meanings for different segments of age and populations, the CBFC's decisions were often questioned, making it a debatable issue.
The era of censor restriction began in British India when the film Bhakta Vidura (1921) was banned because its protagonist bore a strong resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi. In 1978, the Central Board of Film Censor (renamed Central Board of Film Certification in 1982) referred to the political film KISSA KURSI KA(The Tale of a Chair), an innuendo about the politicians) to the Information & Broadcasting Ministry for further clearance. This was eventually destroyed only to be remade and released latter. In 1981, the film MERI AWAZ SUNO (Please Listen to My Voice), about a policeman who infiltrates an underworld gang to discover its nexus with politicians, was first granted an 'A' certificate, but subsequently suspended under the Cinematograph act, 1952 citing that the film depicted excessive violence.
In 1994, the film BANDIT QUEEN, based on the life history of Phoolon Devi-a dalit woman turned bandit was recommended for 17 cuts by the Central Board of Film Certification(CBFC). The film was released with just one visual and one audio cut after court intervention. In the film KAMA SUTRA- A TALE of LOVE (1996), which sought to demonstrate the marriage of spirituality and sexuality through the story of a princess and her servant, was denied a certificate citing it pornographic; it was certified after two scenes of nudity were erased. The film FIRE (1998), which explicitly screened the relationship of two women, who found the poignant expression of their love in their lesbian relationship, was cleared for public exhibition by the Censor Board but, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting referred it back to the Censor Board for review due to violent protest against the film in parts of India. In 2002,the CBFC demanded several deletions from the anti-war and anti-nuclear documentary film Jung-aur-aman (War and Peace) as a pre-condition for granting certificate, only to be certified without any deletion after the Bombay High Court directed the CBFC to do so (TOI,2003:April 26). As the censors claimed, the film suggested a bias against the Muslims minority when aid was distributed after the Gujrat earth quake 2001.
The list of such films touched by censorship issues in India gets longer even as the country emerges as the most prolific film producing country in the world (TOI,2002: July 28). At times the issue is excessive violence (Aakrosh, 2003), at others it is kissing on screen (Khwaish), even at others it is smoking on screen (God Mother, 1999, Pyar -To-Hona Hi Tha).
The era of protest against restriction on cinema is as old as the restriction itself. But the restriction continues and is expected to continue, of course, efforts have been made to ease the tensions out. The recent ICT revolutions, especially the wider availability of digital duplicating technologies and the wider scope for their circulation through the networked technologies have raised afresh questions on the relevance of the censor mechanism in India. But, despite the growing justifications against its continuation, the justifications for censorship is found in the argument that Indian society constitutes of people with a divergent social outlook and the response to cinema censorship must be defined by the divergent socio- political and cultural parameters of the country (Dayal, 1987).
But, every new case of censorship dispute renews demands for abolition of the Censor Board and the practice of film censorship in India. The Indian Supreme Court and High Courts' have adjudicated on the matter, expert committees have recommended solutions, the government has issued revised guidelines from time to time, but still the issue remains unsettled. Even public opinion on the issue is intricate and dichotomous. Despite the county having well formulated obscenity laws for over a century, the question still remains: is censorship necessary?
This paper attempts to explore the philosophical foundations of the right to artistic expression and its reasonable limits with special reference to film censorship in India in the context of the ongoing digital communication technology revolution, emerging patterns of Indian society and the changing profile of Indian audiences. The specific objectives of the study are:
To examine the legal and philosophical foundations of media freedom, to identify its limits and explore the grounds for censor restriction.
To explore the impacts of films and the scope for their positive use for social transformation and development.
To make an assessment of the role and functioning of the Censor Board with regard to public perception and expectation in the context of the emerging digital communication technology environment; and
To analyze public perception to find out the potential to make the Indian 'cinema censorship' practices more effective and acceptable.
Background of the Study
Historically, censorship as a term in English goes back to the office of the censor established in ancient Rome. The censor was one of two magistrates of early Rome who acted as the census authority, and inspectors of moral who regulated the morals of the citizens, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines 'Censor', to be a person who is authorized to read publications or correspondence or to watch theatrical performances and suppress in whole or in part anything considered obscene or politically unacceptable.
As a practice, censorship is the control of what people may say or hear, write or read, or see or do, and suppression of material considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or the citizen groups. The materials which are included within the scope of censorship commonly includes nudity, sexual activity, language, presentation of criminal acts, violence messages considered to be immoral in the context of a society.
Traditionally censorship was associated with ideas about state oppression, intolerant governments or other powerful institutions controlling the minds of powerless citizens and society's dominated classes (Biltereyst, 2010). It was related to brutal strategies to limit freedom of speech, or to undermine artistic expression. It was even seen as part of a carefully orchestrated strategy of controlling or even silencing public debate in society. With the universal recognition of human rights and the right to communicate as a vital component, the exercise of film censorship in modern times is seen as violating the sanctity of the constitutionally granted freedom of speech and expression in liberal democracies (Kazmi,2001), and is mostly regarded as a relic of an unenlightened and much more oppressive age and hardly finds any favour among elite sections of a society.
Daniel Biltereyst of the Centre for Cinema and Media Studies claim that censorship is more complex and constitutes more than simply banning, cutting and imposing restrictions 'from above' by state institutions. This revelation is based on a broader definition of censorship and new theoretical underpinnings of the concept. New approaches argue that the state does not wield absolute power, and also that censorship institutions are not disconnected from society but are run by flesh-and-blood people with their own sensitivities, norms and values. This includes the existence of negotiations between the censors, the industry and film makers (Biltereyst, 2008).
This new approach to censorship shifted the focus from the old institutionalized, interventionist censorship to a more culturalist notion of film censorship (Biltereyst, 2010). From this perspective, censorship was gradually accepted as a keen and sharp indicator of what a particular hegemonic group in society can tolerate at a particular moment. The wider social and cultural ideologies determining hegemonic group's activities' present the framework for negotiation between industry, filmmakers, censors and their respective discourses, to achieve some form of consensus on the acceptability of certain images, scenes or films. This negotiation process makes it rather unlikely that film classification boards would take decisions going completely against societal sensitivities. The censor negotiations combine historical, sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical parameters and vacillate between the two extremes of the liberty of artistic expression and the moral responsibilities of audiovisual representations.
Reflecting the views of a section of the film industry Bhowmik claims that trends on censorship practice violates the sanctity of the constitutionally granted freedom of speech and expression Disagreeing with the popular notion of censorship as moral restraint, he argues that its true import lies in the propagation of political agendas, there being intricate interplay of policies of governance and strictures of censorship. It is claimed that bureaucratic manipulation, judicial laxity, vested interest and political or public pressure keep the institution of film censorship going in India (Bhowmik (2003:3149).
Cinema can play a positive role in society in terms of providing entertainment, enhancing information and knowledge, sensitizing people about urgent issues of society, in creating sociability and offering catharsis (Bhakhry, 1995:71). Similarly, cinema can also play an equally negative role in teaching wrong values, generating social and sexual violence and crime, providing escape from reality into a dream world instead of facing up to the problems of life, encouraging adoption of destructive role models and in encouraging cynicism about social institutions (Bhakhry, 1995:71. It is these impacts of cinema on society which makes censorship an important issue and justifies the efforts put into this study.
Genesis of Censor Restriction in Indian Cinema
The institution of censorship in Indian cinema took roots soon after the birth of the indigenous film industry. The Indian Cinematograph Act of 1918 was enacted by the British government in India with the avowed aim of "safety of the audiences, and the prevention of degrading of moral performances", though the real intentions, as was often alleged, were to pre-empt political issues perceived as threats to the British Raj in India (Bhowmik, 2003:3149).Regional Censor Boards were constituted at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Rangoon, and Lahore in 1920, to put a check, as was claimed, on sensitive issues, objectionable subjects, and forbidden scenes in foreign films. The first instances of censorship took place soon after the setting up of these regional censor boards when the 1921 film Bhakta Vidura was banned alleging that its protagonist bore a strong resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi.
Following Indian independence, the Indian Cinematograph Act of 1918 was carried forward by the Indian leadership essentially as an attempt to cleanse or control the harmful western influence through the medium of film entertainment. The Indian leadership publicly stated that the sanctity of the well received principles of morality and behaviour would be invoked in matters relating to exhibition of films in the country(Bhowmik,2003: July 26). They emphasized the need for improvement in the moral and ethical standards in films.
In 1951, all regional censor boards were brought under the unified command of a Central Board of Film Censors. The Indian Cinematograph Act 1918 was replaced by the Indian Cinematograph Act 1952, which was amended in 1982 and new censorship guidelines were issued in 1983. The law provides for appointment of a 'Central Board of Film Certification' to certify films for public exhibition in India which functions with headquarters at Mumbai assisted by nine regional offices at Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Thiruvananthpuram, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati. The law and the guidelines provide for appointment of the Board, their functioning and the issues to be considered while certifying a cinema for public exhibition in India. A Film certification Appellate Tribunal was established in 1984 at Delhi to hear appeals against the decisions of the CBFC.
In the years that followed Indian independence, film censorship continues to vacillate between the two extremes of the growing 'right to freedom of expression view' and 'public decency' defined by group perceptions and interests. The then minister of information and broadcasting R.R. Diwakar characterized the newly framed CBFC as a dignified effort to model an effective medium of healthy entertainment, national culture, and mass education (Hunnings, 1967:228). The main objectives of film censorship, as per the certification guidelines, have been to ensure that -
The medium of film remains responsible and responsive to the values and standards of society;
Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed; and
Censorship is responsive to social changes.
As provided in the Indian Cinematograph Act 1952 including its subsequent amendments , films are certified relying on the judgment of examining and revising committees and are issued any of the following four types of certificates -'U', 'UL'. 'A', and 'S', as has been provided under the Indian Cinemagraph Act.1952.
'U' (unrestricted exhibition) certificate is issued to a cinema which, in the opinion of the CBFC, is suitable for unrestricted public exhibition.
'UA' (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of 12) certification is issued to a film in respect of which the board is of the opinion that it is necessary to caution that the question as to whether any child below the age of 12 may be allowed to see such film should be considered by the parents or guardians of such child.
'A' (public exhibition restricted to adults only) certificate is issued to a cinema if in the opinion of the board its public exhibition is to be restricted to adults only.
'S'(public exhibition restricted to specialized audiences) certification of a cinema means the cinema is suitable for public exhibition restricted to members of a profession, for example Doctors.
The CBFC is assisted in examination of films by members of Advisory Panels and Examining Committees, and issues certificates as suggested. The board examines films for certification in accordance with provisions contained in the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Cinematography (Certification) Rules, 1983 and the guidelines issued in this regard by the government of India from time to time. While considering a cinema for certification as mentioned above, the CBFC may direct to delete or amend material that might be considered to be offensive by its audiences or may even refuse to allow a film to be screened commercially. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) hears appeals against the decisions of the Censor Board in respect of certification of a film. The decisions of the tribunal are binding on the board and it disposes the matter in conformity with the order of the tribunal.
Under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 the Central Government is also empowered to send back a film for review by the Censor Board or to cancel or modify a certificate issued to a film under certain circumstances. Petitions can be filed in High Courts seeking a ban on screening of a film.
IV. Artistic Freedom and its Limits
Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution Guarantees to every citizen of India the right to freedom of speech and expression; also assures the freedom of media, though it is not separately stated there, unlike some other constitutions like that of the USA. The freedom of media is part of a larger right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to every citizen. The right to freedom of speech and expression includes within it, the right to collect and receive information from anywhere and through any legitimate means, the right to disseminate information and express opinion (Sawant, 1997).
Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.View our services
The freedom granted under 19(1) (a) is not absolute, and is subject to restrictions recognized by all liberal democracies as well as by international declarations and covenants. These restrictions are contained in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, which states that freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1)(a) shall not affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the state from making any law, which imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the freedom in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The restrictions have, of course to be reasonable meaning there by that; they must have a direct nexus with the ground on which they are imposed (Sawant, 1997). They should also not be in excess of the purpose sought to be achieved or supplant the freedom itself. Again, the media, when run as a business, is also subject to the restrictions, which may be imposed by the state on any business, under Article 19(6) of the constitution.
The principles of the censorship set out in section 5-B of the Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 1959 states: "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 against the interests of security of the state, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court, or is likely to incite the commission of an offence." This sub section is in agreement with article 19(2) of the constitution. Sub-section (2) of section 5-B states, "Subject to the conditions contained in sub-section -1, the central government may issue such directions as it may think fit, setting out the principles which shall guide the authority competent to grant certificate under this act in sanctioning films for public exhibition".
In a celebrated Supreme Court judgment in 1970, in the case brought before it by K.A. Abbas, regarding his film "A Tale of Four Cities" declared that, " censorship falls under constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression and that while pre censorship of films does not contravene those guarantees per se, is still a justifiable issue and cannot be decided by a government official" (Dayal, 1987).
The Supreme Court has indicated that , " Censorship in India (and pre-censorship is not different in quality) has full justification in the field of exhibition of cinema films" and "the censorship imposed on the making and exhibition of films is in the interest of the society. If the regulations venture into something, which goes beyond the legitimate opening to restrictions, they can be questioned on the ground that a legitimate power is being abused. We hold, therefore, that censorship of films, including prior restraint, is justified under our constitution" (Vasudev, 1978).
The enquiry committee on film censorship in 1968, known as the Khosla Committee, in its report submitted in 1969, said, in the case of films "Censorship can be deemed to be reasonable restrictions on the right of freedom of expression". Provided that "the nature and extent of this control or restriction is related to the maters mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Indian constitution. Censorship must be authorized by law, and must be confined within the limits permitted by law and the provisions of the constitution. To extend the scope of censorship to considerations of public taste and ban a mater which does not fall within the limits of the reasonable restrictions clause would not be legal"(Vasudev,1979).
As such, the legal boundaries of Artistic freedom and its limits are well settled. But, the issue beyond the legal framework, which comes into the fore in any discussion of the moral basis of cinema censorship, is its social impact.
Social Impacts of Films
Any discussion on films and society confronts a vital question 'dose cinemas have any impact on the society'. There are two schools of thought on this issue among film makers. One line of thinking believe that films can never affect or reform the social body or the events taking place within it, but the other believes that the medium does have a direct or indirect impact on social streams, even though it may not be immediately perceptible. The former cites the example that 'just after a couple of excellent anti-war films were exhibited, the second world war engulfed humanity' hence cinema cannot and should not offer any solutions for social problems raised by its writer and directors, by its content and style. The mere exposition of the problem is enough and there ends cinema's artistic obligation as well as compulsion. The later, however, stretches cinema's role further to promote a thought process and line of action where by the viewers are provoked into trying a change for the better. Films, which talked directly and movingly about the wrongs of society, go on to influence it and shape it along better lines.
The most important contribution of cinema to society is that by sheer usage it has grown to be a standard reference for most kinds of questions and situations, where elementary knowledge and practice are needed (Rangoonwalla, 1995:7). The mass mind picks up such points largely and stores them in some mental corner, to be reactivated while seeking or giving answers and guidance. Some of the life patterns and conclusions propagated by them could be having social repercussions below the outer of everyday life. Violence, crime and sex are made to look easy and frivolous, without much of retribution to follow.
The magic of cinema is virtually unfathomable. The very mention of cinema conjures up a rainbow of captivating images. A vital aspect of Indian cinema is its unifying character. The Indian films have been subtly albeit consistently promoting the ideas of national integration and communal harmony. A part of the socio-economic cultural transformation can be attributed to the cinema as films usually generate social mobility, fluidity and an overall sense of oneness among people of different backgrounds (Rangoonwalla, 1995:7).The society is ripe with cases of crimes and criminals being emulated from the screen and so also the attitude to suicide as a way of dejection, mostly in love. Fashion including smoking and drinking, in many cases, are inspired from cinema characters. The vast fan followings of stars like Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachhan, Mithun Chatkrabothy are eloquent testimony to the social impacts of films.
A study by Dr. Sativa Bhakry shows that Cinema can play both positive as well as negative roles in society. It can have positive impacts in terms of providing entertainment, enhancing information and knowledge, sensitizing people about urgent issues of society, in creating sociability and offering catharsis. It offers release from tensions of daily life. Cinema can also play an equally negative role in teaching wrong values, generating social and sexual violence and crime, providing escape from reality into a dream world of fantasy instead of facing up to the problems of life, encouraging adoption of destructive role models and in encouraging cynicism about social institutions (Bhakhry, 1995:71-76).
VI. Philosophical Foundations of Cinema Censorship
Plato's polemics of art and artists urged strict censorship of the arts because of their influence on moulding people's characters (Rufus, 2010). Using his theory of forms, Plato claimed that artists and poets couldn't usually explain their works; as they are seized by irrational inspiration, a sort of "divine madness (Bruce, 1998)." Much of his writings reflect the belief that the vital opinions of the community could be shaped by law and that men could be penalized for saying things that offended public sensibilities, undermined common morality, or subverted the institutions of the community (Jowett, 2010).
Acclaimed film critic and a spiritual champion of the right to freedom of expression, Noel Burch (1973) approved the censorship mechanism when he claimed "......I doubt if anybody will advocate freedom from interference of the state machinery to be extended to the commercial exploitation of a powerful medium of expression and entertainment like cinema. One can imagine the results if an unbridled commercial cinema is allowed to cater to the lowest common denominator of popular taste, especially in a country which after two centuries of political domination , is still suffering from confusion and debasement of cultural values. Freedom of expression cannot, and should not be interpreted as a license for the cinemagnates to make money by pandering to and thereby propagating, shoddy and vulgar taste.
While emphasizing the role of cinema as a vehicle of modernism, India's first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru has also advocated some amount of social control to ward off its bad effects (Vasudev, 1978:107). Nehru's response to a public petition urging him to curb the evil influences of films not only brought the citizenry within the domain of film censorship but also legitimised their exercise of power.
Tanuja Chandra claims that "the artists have every right to give expression to the work of art and viewers have an equal right to reject it, if they do not like it either in part or whole. Therefore, cinema like other potent media, such as press, drama and fiction should be left under the common law". The entertainment part of cinema, she argues is of much important than the emotional part. But, it seems, the Indian society has still miles to go before accepting this argument. Veteran actor turned Member of Parliament Satrughna Sinha claims that "in a country like India films reach the widest possible and most diversified audience. As a medium of mass communication it can exercise the most tremendous and potent influence on the public. The rampant use of blatant sex and gruesome violence (as commodities for sale by the producers) can terribly shake a nation; the ruinous elements can easily shatter the society before the common law can give protection". As such censorship cannot be unreasonable, if it is within limits (TOI, 2006).
Sinha disagrees with Tanuja Chandra's suggestion that "it should be left to the public to decide what to see and what not" and says "it cannot be left entirely to the public, this way even blue films could be fair game."(Thapar, 1998). Even he rejects former Censor Board chief Vijay Anand's suggestion 'to replace the system of cuts with ratings' and claims that "replacing the present system of cuts with ratings" will reduce our Technicolor cinema into blue films' (Sengupta, 2002). John Dayal Claims that "more and more people, especially the younger, look forward to watch the blatant display of sex and violence on the screen. If this virus is allowed to the artery of our national blood, the society will be infested with unruly elements with hardly any care for our social values and traditional tenets, which will eventually lead to chaos and anarchy in the society. Curbs are, therefore, necessary to protect the moral health of the nation and to ensure that cinema does not hurt the sensibilities or interests of the extraordinarily heterogeneous people that constitute the Indian nation" (Dayal, 1987:61).
Acclaimed film critic Nikhat Kazmi finds no harm in showing a couple kissing as a mark of love and affection, because rapes and murders are not caused only because of films; rather they are the prime instincts of belligerence and sex that are inherent in every human being. She claims that censorship is irrelevant in the present age when cyber space offers its unlimited frontiers at the click of a mouse (Kazmi, 2002). When satellite television brings it all unhindered into the bedroom itself, censorship has virtually nothing to do with the Indian Cinema. Responding to the demands of the digital era, many nations have, in fact, repealed their obscenity laws and have dropped legal barriers against pornography for adults. Supporting these arguments, Tanuja Chandra, an acclaimed film producer in India, terms the Indian censorship guidelines totally redundant. She says "the censor rule book, a relic of British colonialism, is completely outdated, it sticks out like a priest who tries to curb freedom of expression with a ruler in his hands"(Kazmi,2002). Citing the censor board decisions as irrational and inconsistent, some film makers claim that at times the censors object to sex, at times to violence and at times even to something as ridiculous as a woman smoking a cigarette (Jha, 1999).
Hinting at the vulnerability of the censors, veteran film actor, producer and director Dev Anand says that "the Censor Board's limited authority and accountability to the central government, in fact, leads to its play-safe attitude". He opined that "the censor board is a puppet in the hands of the central governmentâ€¦ guidelines seems to change every time a government changes" (Jha, 1999). Opposing censorship in any form, he argue that every clipping in a film is condemnable and only rating is permissible as in the Hollywood film industry.
These conflicting arguments and the apparent vertical split in the film industry shows our state of confusion and failure in taking a categorical position on the issue. Perhaps, the country has not yet reached a stage where censorship in cinema is to be scrapped altogether. The safest choice, therefore, is to take appropriate steps to make our censor mechanism more effective rather than attempting to abolish it.
VII. Research Design and Methods
Analysing a complex issue like film censorship demands a multidisciplinary approach. Constitutional and legal provisions, judgements of Supreme Court and High Courts, observations of various committees and commissions on limits of the rights
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:
Related ServicesView all
DMCA / Removal Request
If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: