Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
Censorship of cinema in India follows ‘The Cinematograph Act of 1952’. The growth of the film industry during the pre and post-independence period felt the need of a comprehensive mechanism in the national level. Since the exhibition of cinema was confined to theatres during the period, emphasis was laid upon the review of content and maintenance of exhibition formalities.
However, cinema graduated to television and video formats after three decades. Within next three decades, cinema reached internet platforms. Technological developments warranted amendments to the act. Circulation of pirated copies of cinema and unauthorized exhibitions called for strict vigilance through regulatory forums.
The first exhibition of cinema in the international level was conducted in 1895 and within a year reached India in 1896. Initially, films made in foreign countries were exhibited and the first native feature film was ready for screening in 1912. The British rulers enacted ‘The India Cinematograph Act 1920’. Film censorship facilities were established in three cities Mumbai, Kolkata and Rangoon. The local police chiefs presided over the committees empowered to censor films. A committee was formed to study the status of Indian cinema in 1928, which recommended for film censorship facility in the national level.
‘The Cinematograph Board of Film Censors’ was formed in the post-independent period. It was renamed as ‘Central Board of Film Certification’ in 1983. In accordance to the existing laws, before the exhibition of films in the public domain, all films need to be censored by the board. The major areas emphasised during the censorship include national unity and sovereignty, security, friendly relations with foreign nations, public order, morality, defamation and contempt of court issues as depicted in the content.
In accordance with the law, committees consisting of a group of experts judge the content of films to issue censor certificates. In cases, the board members can order for deletion of certain scenes or audio portions and also advise for changes. In cases, when the producers disagree with the decision of the board, they had an option for appeal at ‘The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal’. The facility has been withdrawn from 2021. The aggrieved parties need to knock the doors of the high courts.
After 32 years of the enactment of ‘The Cinematograph Act 1952’, considering the technological changes a few amendments were carried out during 1984. Again, after 40 years ‘The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2023’ was passed in Rajya Sabha on July 27, 2023, and Lok Sabha on July 31, 2023. Broadly the amendments will guard the interests of film producers and contribute to social enrichment.
First, piracy has risen as a major obstacle to the growth of the Indian film industry in an era of online media consumption. It is being told that the producers in the country face a loss of 20,000 crore rupees annually. Amendment of the act will result in a punishment of three months to three years jail and a three lakh fine for piracy to the offenders. In certain cases the fine amount can be enhanced to five percent of the audited production cost of a film.
Secondly, according to the act of 1952 censor certificates were issued for a period of 10 years and the producers had to apply afresh for reissue of certification after 10 years. The amendment allowed certification for life. Thirdly, the provision of issue of certificates under U/A category has been divided into three sections U/A – 7 years, U/A – 13 years, and U/A – 16 years and above to attend a public exhibition of film by teenagers under parental guidance.
In addition, films issued ‘A’ for adults and ‘S’ for specific professionals have to apply for fresh certification to broadcast in television medium. Government of India’s prerogative to call back of certified films for review been revoked through the amendment.
In the history of mass media cinematography appeared 400 years after the invention of printing technology. While print took 300 years to spread its wings in India, cinema reached the sub-continent within a year after its first exhibition in Paris. The film industry in India is considered forerunner in the International level with an annual production of 3,000 films in 40 languages.
Theatre exhibition of cinema has been largely transferred to smartphones during the post-Covid-19-pandemic environment. People spend long hours on mobile phone screens instead of silver screens of theatre enjoying cinema. In our country, Over-the-Top ‘OTT’ platforms could built-up their infrastructure before the pandemic. The popularity of OTT grew in the pandemic lockdowns and continue the speed during the ‘new normal’. The question arises, should the cinematograph act meant for theatre exhibition and television broadcasting be applicable for OTT? During the discussion of the amendment bill in Parliament, the subject came into purview.
Media specialists mention that Indian cinema is gathering popularity in the international field. Technological support for exhibition online worldwide by OTT plays an important role in the process. In such a situation, regulatory policy decisions by the government may adversely affect its progress. There is little chance for piracy in OTT platforms. Transparent and digital information on the entire business, even every consumer’s transactions are readily available for review. OTT platforms emerged after 100 years of cinematography and have an agenda to take cinema to the nooks and corners of the world. It appears faulty to impose Indian ethos among the international cinema audience through regulatory mechanism.
In contemporary society, OTT is being developed as an alternative trend to cinema. Indian laws such as the Information Technology Act 2000, Cable Television Network Rules 1994, Code of Ethics attached to IT Act and Copyright Act 1957 offer sufficient scope to be vigilant on OTT platforms. Self-regulation of OTT platforms is being encouraged. The ecosystem does not favour dragging OTT into the ambit of cinema in India. It should have a separate identity.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on August 4, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-313
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2023 taken up for consideration and passing in Lok Sabha