Representational Image. (HT archive)
Representational Image. (HT archive)

Government seeks public feedback on Cinematograph Act amendments

At present, under theCinematograph Act, 1952, there are only three categories of film certification: unrestricted public exhibition or U, parental guidance required for children under 12 or U/A, and adult films
PUBLISHED ON JUN 21, 2021 10:26 AM IST

The government has sought public feedback on the proposed Cinematograph Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, that will enable a broader age-related classification, allow the Centre to act on complaints and seek re-certification of a film, and also penalise piracy.

The amendments, for which the Centre has sought feedback before July 2, propose an age classification system akin to the one specified under the new intermediary and digital media guidelines notified on February 25. The categories would include U, or universal, U/A 7+ , U/A 13+, and U/A 16+, besides an A rating for content restricted to adults.

At present, under theCinematograph Act, 1952, there are only three categories of film certification: unrestricted public exhibition or U, parental guidance required for children under 12 or U/A, and adult films.

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If the proposed amendments are cleared, then the government will also have the power to restrict cinematic content on the basis of the 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 any offence. “The Central Government in respect of a film certified for public exhibition, on account of violation of Section 5B(1) of the Act, the Central Government may, if it considers it necessary so to do, direct the Chairman of the Board to re-examine the film,” the government said in a release on June 18.

The government has also pointed out a lack of provisions to check film piracy. “At present, there are no enabling provisions to check film piracy in the Cinematograph Act, 1952, making it necessary to have a provision in the Act to check film piracy,” the release stated. The new provisions include a jail term extending up to three years for piracy, and a fine of not less than 3 lakh. There is also a move to grant film’s certificates in perpetuity, while the present system only allows for a film to be certified for 10 years.

According to Prasanth Sugathan from the Software Freedom Law Centre, granting revisionary powers to the Government goes against the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Union of India v KM Shankarappa. “This effectively gives the Union Government supervisory power over the Board as well as the Tribunal,” he said. “This will result in a situation where a few persons protesting can virtually stall the exhibition of any film. This will be a case of heckler’s veto prevailing and, in a country, where there will always be sections who are easily offended by any work of art this will have dangerous repercussions for freedom of expression.”

Film critic Gautam Chintamani said, “The age-appropriate certification proposed is one of the key elements of the new Cinematograph Act. It’s a much-needed change, which has been suggested many times in the past including by the Shyam Benegal-led committee. In addition the certification aspect, the compliance of the same needs to be ensured.

The abolition of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) by the Government of India last week — under the Tribunal Reforms Ordinance, 2021 — has evoked criticism from some quarters. As this was the penultimate forum for filmmakers to appeal against edits suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), its absence means now the filmmaker would have to go to the high court.

In my personal opinion, an updated Cinematograph Act where the definitions such as obscenity, anti-national, etc. are clearly defined so that there aren’t any misunderstandings around the interpretation of the nature and scope of these words and age-appropriate certification could lead to CBFC having a clearer and more contemporary understanding of certification.”

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