In today's world, cinema is not restricted to being a mere source of entertainment. Rather, it acts as a medium for social commentary. Over the years, cinema has influenced our society in numerous ways. Accordingly, it has become an imperative to ensure that the entertainment that is made available to the society is suitable for public viewing. Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra, released in 1913, is considered the first ever full-length Indian film to be produced. The Indian Cinematograph Act came into effect seven years after Raja Harishchandra's initial release. Originally, censorship boards existed as independent bodies in several states including Madras, Calcutta, Lahore, Rangoon and Bombay. After India's independence, all the independent censorship bodies were clubbed into a single board called the Bombay Board of Film Censors. Subsequently, the cinematograph act of 1952 restructured the Bombay Board into a single board which is now known as the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The CBFC plays a crucial role in ensuring that the entertainment that is made available to the general public is suitable for viewing. This is done by dividing films into various categories by certifying them as U (unrestricted for public exhibition), U/A (Films with negligent amount of adult themes that can be watched with parental guidance), A (Films that are specifically for the adult audience), S (Films that can be viewed by an audience belonging to a particular profession). The cinematograph act of 1952 facilitates this certification as well. It ensures that all the films are accurately certified for public viewing and is also responsible for the existence of CBFC.
In 2021, the Centre released the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 (hereinafter referred to as 'the bill'). While the bill does address several problems that the film industry is riddled with, several actors and filmmakers have openly criticised the bill. The following are some of the major amendments proposed by the bill:
- The bill suggests to give certificates to films for a perpetual period of time. This time, the period is currently set for 10 years.
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposes that the Act should give "revisionary powers to the Centre". This implies that if section 5B (1) (which deals with the principles for certifying films) is violated by the CBFC, the Centre can reverse the decision of the CBFC. Thus, according to the bill, the Centre can use its power to 're-certify' a film.
- Additionally, the bill has also proposed to add a proviso to the sub section (1) of section 6. It states that the Central Government may also direct the Chairman of the Board to re-examine a film before certifying it for public exhibition, if deemed necessary.
- The bill has proposed to add more categories to the existing UA category. The UA category will be subdivided into three categories a per the age of the children. The categories would be U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+.
- Piracy is an issue that has plagued the film industry for a very long time. In order to combat this, the ministry has added a provision specifying the penal consequences of film piracy. The draft has proposed the addition of section 6AA which is aimed to prohibit unauthorized recording. More specifically, the section states that "Notwithstanding any law for the time being in force, no person shall, without the written authorisation of the author, be permitted to use any audio-visual recording device in a place to knowingly make or transmit or attempt to make or transmit or attempt to make or transmit or abet the making or transmission of a copy of a film or a part thereof."
- Subsequent to section 6AA, the bill has also proposed a set of penalties for film piracy. It proposes that the punishment for film piracy would include imprisonment for not less than three months which may extend to three years. Additionally, a fine which shall not be less than Rs 3 Lakh, which may extend to 5% of the audited gross production cost of the film or both shall will have to be paid.
While the draft bill was prepared to obstruct various issues that impedes growth in the film industry, the draft was met with criticism from several filmmakers and actors. Filmmakers and actors contend that the proposed amendments in the draft bill would heavily curtail their freedom of expression and would make them "powerless at the hands of the state". For instance, veteran film director Sudhir Mishra tweeted that- "This proposed amendment/bill on the cinematograph act will make film making impossible. All film bodies should make a strong representation to the Government". It is pertinent to note that the bill does create some room for ambiguity. More specifically, the bill has been criticized for drafting vague and disproportionate clauses.
In order to combat film piracy, the bill states that any person who "in the course of the exhibition of any 'audio-visual work, cinematographic', in an 'exhibition facility' and without express permission from the copyright owner makes a recording of the film or the sound recording of such film shall be punished with.". However, it is to be noted that the term 'exhibition facility' is not defined anywhere in the draft amendment. Moreover, the bill is largely unclear on the 'de minimis' use of a clip from a movie that could be used for non-commercial purposes. If the section comes into effect, no person from the audience can record video or audio snippets of the film even if it's for purposes that may come under the ambit of fair use. Secondly, the bill may largely curtail the autonomy of the Censor Board. Several members of the film fraternity have argued that the Central Government could use its power to eliminate any certification that is issued by the CBFC. This could in turn, limit the freedom of speech and expression to a large extent. Lastly, it has been noted that the punishments prescribed for film piracy are largely disproportionate. Particularly, the fines which may extend up to 5% of the audited gross production cost of the film may largely vary from film to film. As a result, fines prescribed for pirating high budget films would sum up to an exorbitant amount. In all, one could say that the objectives behind the amendments proposed are largely fair, however, several clauses may have to be amended in order to balance the interests of the State as well as the film fraternity.
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