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Is Film Censorship a Prohibition of Creativity, Speech And Expression?

May 09, 2018

Is Film Censorship a Prohibition of Creativity, Speech And Expression?
Is Film Censorship a Prohibition of Creativity, Speech And Expression? | Credit: DNA India

Is India heading towards mature democracy or are we still confined to rules and guidelines when it comes to performance art-forms like cinema? To a large extent, there has always been infringement from judiciary and censor board to curb freedom and democracy if a filmmaker wants to express an idea, diluting the creative aspect for the creators and the users. This underlines the fact meted towards domination and censorship on the liberal rights on Freedom of Speech and Expression in India.

On an average, India produces around 2000 films every year in Hindi and diverse regional languages. Undoubtedly it plays a pivotal role in entertaining the audience while educating and also mirroring the society at large. Yet, the films often become victims of censorship and fringe groups. We have the longest constitution in the world that contours freedom, but in the realms of cinema this connection is completely missing. Apparently the debates between liberals and the traditional cannot overlook what is entitled under freedom of speech and expression and they ban the film without considering the fact of whether it is constitutionally valid.

Constitution upholds right to impose restrictions on seven parameters – security, sovereignty and integrity, amiability with foreign countries, public order, decency, contempt of court, and defamation. Any films which counter any of these grounds are liable to be banned as per the law. Films like Deepa Mehta’s Water and India's Daughter while projecting the issues, shows the country in a bad light and has thus been banned, in spite of winning awards and acclaims internationally. Similarly, movies on the life of the leaders depicting something unfavourable are banned (Kissa Kursi Ka, Aandhi). Movies on communal violence that can ignite a passion on the minds of the viewers can be banned which can cause public disorder. Movies that hurt the religious sentiments like The Da Vinci Code can be banned to avoid conflicts. On the ground of obscenity, anything that is unethical and defies Indian sensibility like Kama Sutra- A Tale of Love, Fire, and The Bandit Queen can be censored. The ban on films on the ground of public order or obscenity in spite of the filmmakers depicting a social evil may still be justified but unreasonable factors like hurting nationalistic or religious sentiments or defying Indian sensibility or going against the Indian culture are clearly untenable.

Most often when watching an English sitcom or movie being aired on television, consistent beeps draws attention towards words which are muted or replaced with an asterisk in the subtitles. Anything which is not relevant to our culture and viewers don't find a place, even at the cost of deforming the expression associated with the idea. All the time the concept and language needn't be offensive but are perpetually made to appear subversive. Taking a beating are independent film-makers in India who are facing cultural resistance and are compromising the attributes related to their films in the hands of rules that are largely debatable. 

The censorship laws from 1952 are no more applicable today as times have changed and the audience has matured and the exposure to YouTube, Netflix and many other media only confirms that this is the age of 24x7 entertainment. Every citizen who has the liberty to take serious decisions like voting at the age of 18, marriage after 21, career choices and investments, should be able to ascertain for themselves what to watch and what to not watch. Do they need assistance from the custodian of the Indian cinema Pahlaj Nihalani Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)?       

Living in a large and diverse country like India, where different kinds of societies dwell, there can be grievances from some section that may disapprove the content. To deal with such situations there should be a Film Council of India which could arbitrate the varied concerns and social grievances. The authority of CBFC on any films should just be to certify the film without imposing any cuts or ban the film. The Film Certification Tribunal should control what is appropriate for the viewers after a dialogue with the filmmaker on the 'censorship' of their work.