In India, censorship has always been a bone of contention between filmmakers and the government body which has taken upon the mantle of moral policing in films. We find out more about censorship in India
How many times have you cursed the censor board for beeping out words which are part of our daily lives? How many times have you cringed when the audio cuts and blurring out of few images played spoilsport while watching a film? Censorship is sort of like a bitter pill which you don’t want but are told that it’ll do you a lot of good. When it comes to films, censorship is deemed necessary for the greater good of the society, or at least this is what the government wants us to believe. Call it over sensitivity or apathy towards creative freedom, there have been numerous instances where the censor board members have locked horns with filmmakers and also angered the audience.
In 1909, England introduced The Cinematography Act to ensure that the theatres had taken strict measures to ensure fire safety. Back then, the film was made from cellulose nitrate base, which was highly inflammable. Although several Indian filmmakers continue to make and screen films, India didn’t have a Cinematography Act of its own till 1920. Initially, the power to censor films was vested in the hands of the police chiefs in major cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Lahore. The British government kept a close eye on films lest they whip up patriotic fervour among the audience and even zamindars, who were close to the ruling government, took a keen interest in the kind of films being made. In 1939, Gudavalli Ramabrahmam’s Raithu Bidda was banned by the British government after the zamindars raised objections about their portrayal in the film. After Independence, the regional censor boards were dissolved and they were brought under the Censor Board in Bombay following the implementation of Cinematograph Act in 1952. The censor board still adheres to these rules. Despite the massive advancements both in terms of content and technology, the Cinematograph Act was revised only once in 1983.
Ironically, there are no preset qualifications to be a part of censor board, leave alone having anything to do with films. A film is watched by no less than 12 people and not more than 25 and when they reach a consensus, a certificate is given based on what the group decides. Most of the times the producers are at the mercy of the censor board. If a producer has any objection, he can approach a revision committee, which consists mostly of filmmakers. Visuals or dialogues which might hurt the religious sentiments or spark communal tensions are deleted without a second thought. Apart from this, portrayal of nudity, sex, smoking, drinking, homosexuality and graphic violence is still a taboo. In 1994 Sekhar Kapoor had to approach the Supreme Court to get his film Bandit Queen released after the censor board and revision committee refused to clear it. Anurag Kashyap’s debut film Paanch couldn’t get a censor certificate due to its disturbing content. In recent times, Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam ran into trouble with the regional censor board which suggested 52 cuts apart from giving an A certificate. Producers of films like Satyam Sivam Sundaram, Black Friday, Fire, Pyar Ka Punchanama and Kissa Kursi Ka were refused a certificate due to various reasons including political blasphemy, nudity and use of expletives.
The emergence of new age filmmakers like Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj, Bala, Ameer, Sasikumar is proving to be quite a challenge for the censor board. However, the censor board in Mumbai is a little more lenient with expletives and nudity in Hindi films. Ever since the government decided to discourage people from smoking and drinking, every film where characters smoke or drink, a statutory warning is flashed. There are severe restrictions on everything which might be remotely offensive to any group, thereby stifling the creative freedom. There have been talks to revamp the Cinematograph Act and also to introduce new system of censorship, but till then, how free is freedom of speech will continue to burn inside the minds of filmmakers.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Hemanth writes primarily about Telugu cinema, although he finds inspiration from the works of filmmakers like Woody Allen. Apart from writing, he spends most of his time on Twitter discussing about cinema, travel and life in Hyderabad.