The report by the Shyam Benegal committee, which has come in good time, was absolutely necessary in view of some the out-of-line ideas that have been put forward in respect of film censorship. It has suggested changes to the law on cinema and is expected to create a ‘holistic framework’ for film certification. Mr Benegal has said that it has been recommended that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) should not go for arbitrary cuts in a film.
This is significant because the board had been frequently intervening on questions of morality such as depicting physical intimacy on the screen, the most recent example being its decision to shorten the kissing scene in a James Bond movie and prohibit in movies the use of some expressions it thinks are ‘swear words’.
Having said this, the Benegal committee is also right in saying that the board can refuse certification if a film contains anything that goes against the Cinematograph Act. Its proposal of having two categories of U/A viewers — one above 12 years and the other 15 — is worth a shot. For example, the Jungle Book, which has just received the U/A certification, could fall in the ‘12 years’ category, which has been called ‘adult with caution’.
In today’s world, when films and documentaries are available on social media, it makes no sense that some people decide what people should or should not watch. Creativity demands freedom for the artist, who in this case is the director of a movie. A film like Pulp Fiction loses its plot altogether if the scenes of violence are deleted. The Last Temptation of Christ, which had received considerable opposition from the faithful, was finally allowed to be screened because its facts were authentic.
In the US, a film has the choice of not being certified. In the UK, an autonomous body called the British Board of Film Certification does the certification. It is heartening that the committee has sought to make the certification process realistic by taking it away from censorship, which sounds primitive in any case.
Also this is an opportune moment to revamp the certification process by reviewing the practice of packing the board with political appointees who lack any real knowledge of films.