The Mechanics of Movie Censorship

A still from Jayan Cherian’s film Papilio Buddha

Suman Mukherjee wasn’t as fortunate with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) as Kamal Hasan. Barely a month after Hasan’s Vishwaroompam was banned in Tamil Nadu, on 25 February Mukherjee’s film Kangal Malsaat (War cry of the poor) was banned in West Bengal. CBFC’s reasons for banning the movie: use of offensive language and being critical of the Singur movement.

In the last decade 256 movies were banned across India. A closer look at the objections raised by the board on these films suggests that there are no specific guidelines on censoring movies in India. And on most of the occasions the victims of an irregular censoring process are the films that do not adhere to the mainstream narrative. “At every review there are two representatives from the ruling parties in the state and center and these members try to stop anything that is politically not comfortable,” says a member of state review boards in condition of anonymity.

Tamil film Sengadal is a classic example of the arbitrary censoring process in the country. The movie, released in 2010, is a feature on the hardships faced by fishermen in Tamil Nadu and how the Sri Lankan navy attacks them in the high seas. The film underwent 52 major cuts. One of the reasons was that the local dialect spoken by the Dhanuskodi fishermen was “unparliamentary” and not suitable for the viewers’ consumption. Whereas, generous use of explicits is commonplace in contemporary Bollywood flicks. Critically acclaimed film like Paan Singh Tomar drew a lot of flack from the censor board for containing swears words. Although, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film finally manged to get a U/A certificate, Sengadal had to be satisfied with an A. “It meant I had to kill my movie since an A certificate bars it from screening it on television,” says Leena Manimekalai, the director of the film.

The lack of clarity in the certification process has the filmmakers and their work as victims. And there is barely any effort from the CBFC to end this muddled process. “The censor board follows an outdated law. The 1952 cinematography act should be scrapped now because cinematography or anything technical in filmmaking is not same anymore. The CBFC should stop following this act,” says Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a former union minister of Information and broadcast.

Even though the political parties in West Bengal did not show any sign of discomfort with the content of Kangal Malsat, many believe that political pressure is a driving force behind censoring such films that are critical of the popular political opinions. The board also raised objections to the way the chief minister’s oath-taking ceremony was shown. “It seems distortion of history and may hurt many common people of West Bengal and create sensation,” it said.

Papilo Buddha, a Malayalam movie directed by Jain Cherian in 2012 is another such victim of political badgering. Cherian’s film takes a critical stance on the anti-Dalit emotions that run high in Kerala. The CBFC initially agreed to give it an A certificate only if it went through 40 major cuts. “But the board censors everything that has a parallel narrative that challenges the sanctity of the state or a popular belief,” Cherian says.

Pankaja Thakur, the CEO of CBFC however refutes these claims. “We don’t bow down to any political pressure; otherwise the way Indira Gandhi’s character was portrayed in Midnight’s Children would have been barred from screening,” he says.

Even as the censor board continues to ban movies the I&B ministry has constituted a panel to review the process and mechanism followed by examining and revising committees in certifying movies. Although the committee is yet to meet, its is a step towards normalise the censorship process in the country.

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  1. Sengadal did not undergo any cuts. Regional censor board banned the film initially and I had to legally fight with the Appellate Tribunal for several months. Film Certification Appellate Tribunal FCAT finally quashed the ban and issued guidelines to reexamine the film. The newly appointed committee by CBFC cleared the film without any cuts but with “A” certificate. As a Filmmaker, I detest negotiating any cuts with any State Agency to assure my viewers an uncensored film.

  2. All movies that should be out there being shown to the people are being banned, one must fight against it and at some point if itsmoreimportantto show the film one must put it up on the Internet, with an appropriate warning. At least then people can see it and probably comment on it.


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