Filmmakers' campaign against Cinematograph Act amendments
A group of young filmmakers has initiated an online campaign to mobilise opinion against the proposed amendments in the Cinematograph Act, particularly the bid by the information and broadcasting ministry to restore the “revisional powers’’ of the Union government on film certification after a movie has been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
“This provision will effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country, potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent,’’ the filmmakers have said in a letter that will be submitted to the ministry on July 2 — the deadline set for sending responses on the proposed amendments.
This initiative comes amid an almost deafening silence from the big names in the film industry over the restoration of revisional powers of the Centre, which had been struck down by the courts two decades ago citing democratic principles.
Making use of the ministry’s request for comments on the proposed amendments, some young filmmakers, academics, researchers and lawyers put together a 12-page clause-by-clause response to the Cinematograph Amendment Bill, 2021, and placed it in the public domain on Sunday night for endorsement to “embolden our fight against authoritarian censorship’’.
Besides urging the government to drop the amendment pertaining to restoring the revisional powers, the filmmakers want the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FACT) — which was abolished in April — to be restored; pointing out that in its absence, they would be left with no option but to approach the courts directly if they are unhappy with a decision taken by the CBFC. Apart from being an expensive option, this would also result in financial loss because of potential delays in film releases, they said.
About the move to restore the revisional powers, their letter to the ministry says it is “another blow’’ to the film fraternity. “Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country, potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent. This will also render filmmakers powerless at the hands of the state and more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors,’’ the appeal said.
What the filmmakers fear the most is that the revisional powers will be used to force the film industry to build a narrative the government wants to impose on the country. Also, the amendments could shrink the space for films that seek to push the envelope or address hot button issues.
The letter iterates a long-held view of the industry that the CBFC, as the name suggests, should only be a body that grants certification and “not be authorised to dictate excision, modifications and amendments to films under review’’.
Some of the early signatories to the letter include directors Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar, Vikramaditya Motwane, Hansal Mehta, Anurag Kashyap, Abhishek Chaubey, Chaitanya Tamhane and Farhan Akhtar and actors Arundhati Nag and Sheeba Chaddha.
Though filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj had on Friday urged film bodies to oppose this “unfair and unreasonable provision’’, there was no indication that they have responded to the ministry’s proposals yet.