Few institutions, it would seem, can escape being politicised at one point or the other. So the resignation of the chief and members of the last censor board, over the issue of a film starring a cult leader, has become a political battleground. The merits or demerits of the film — MSG: The Messenger of God — have been forgotten.
The new chief of the swiftly constituted new board has expressed his admiration for the prime minister and his fondness for the BJP. Most of the new members have some link to the BJP and RSS, which have been openly declared. This raises the issue of subjectivity when it comes to their judgement at the time of assessing a film. Now the board itself does not issue certifications, they are done by state boards. The main criteria of viewing a film should be its suitability to a particular age group. Of course, if something objectionable is promoted, the censor board has the right to reject the film outright.
The composition of the board is of utmost importance if its recommendations have to carry credibility. The members must have domain knowledge above all. The current chief is a film maker in his own right, but he is blotting his copybook by proclaiming his affinities with the party in power. In India, very often public sensitivities are taken into account when certifying a film. This should not be the case. A film should be judged strictly on merit, using criteria that are laid down. The censor board cannot be used as a sinecure for loyalists as has too often been the case. Offending religious sentiment is often a reason for a film not getting certification. This is where the board should be left to carry out its duties professionally and for the State to ensure that no harm comes to those involved in the making and screening of the film.
Ideally, the censor board should be selected by peers and not by the government. But in the absence of that, governmental engagement should be minimal in laying down guidelines for the board. The current board must ensure that its affiliations with the ruling party do not stand in the way of its objectivity. This will prove difficult in a country where sensitivities are always on a razor’s edge. A film is all about a strong plot line, cinematographic excellence, judicious editing and top drawer acting. If it is judged on these criteria and assessed for which age group it is suited for, the censor board will have done its job. And politics should have no place in its deliberations.