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A Battle of Creativity Vs. Control! Analysis of Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

The Government of India has decided to amend Cinematograph Act 1952 (The Act). It has asked different stakeholders to give their feedback on the proposed amendment, Cinematograph Act Amendment Bill 2021 (Bill). This amendment has started tremendous debates in the industry. Why is the film industry so concerned with this amendment? How is the amendment going to impact screenwriters and filmmakers? What should be the suggestions to the Government regarding the amendment? Are you facing these queries? Or, are you at least curious about this issue? Do you want to know in detail regarding this ongoing debate of 'creativity vs. control'? We have brought you this (slightly longer!) article to give you a critical analysis of the proposed amendment and suggestions for the way forward. If you are a person associated with the creative industry, it is a must-read for you. Bookmark it for weekend reading if currently you have another more important task to do! Do come back to it as it is directly impacting you! In the successive paragraphs, I am going to explain the concerns and the suggestions for fairer and inclusive amendment in the Act. I shall be limiting the scope of this Article only to the amendment proposed in respect to Section 6 of the Act.

No doubt there are few welcome changes proposed in the Bill to curtail piracy, to introduce age-based sub-categories of U/A certification, provisions to prohibit and penalize unauthorized recording or transmission of a copy of a film during its exhibition. However, the creative community is particularly concerned about the excessive revisional power granted to the Central Government in the Bill that shall lead to multiple censorships and hence may unreasonably curtail the freedom of speech and expression of the screenwriters and filmmakers as guaranteed under Article-19 of the constitution. Further, I think that the Bill in its current form is missing a golden opportunity to reform the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) as recommended by Justice Mudgal Committee & Shyam Benegal Committee.

Before we address the specific concerns with the proposed amendment in Section 6 of the Act under Bill, I would like to make you aware of the history of censorship in India. The British Government had first introduced Cinematograph Act in 1918 to exert control over the colonies. The Act was premised on the perception that Indian masses were illiterate, unruly, and prone to be incited into passion by the influence of cinema. Today in 2021, we are one of the leading film industries in the world. In free India, our Screenwriters dared to write path-breaking scripts on various social, economic, and political issues. Our filmmakers compete with Hollywood to produce high-quality cinemas that receive global acclamation. However, our censorship laws continue to view the audiences and content creators through a paternalistic lens exerting tight control over our cinematic practices. Cinematograph Act, 1952 (The Act) has failed to keep pace with the technological changes in filmmaking and exhibition, the choices and beliefs of the viewers, and also the contemporary standards of society, that have undergone a radical change ever since its enactment. It is a sad truth that even today our films are highly censored.

The creative industry as an industry also needs fewer regulations so that it can receive an edge to flourish. Hence, an amendment to the Act is the need to the hour. However, the aim of the amendment should be to promote artistic expression and creative freedom and to empower the audience to make informed viewing choices. Further, the certification process should be responsive to rapid social change. In the last 12 years, there have been two prominent committees formed by the Government in the years 2013 and 2016, under the Chairmanship of Justice Mukul Mudgal (“Justice Mudgal Committee”) and Mr. Shyam Benegal (“Shyam Benegal Committee”), respectively and the resulting bills namely, the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2013 and the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2018. Both Committees have made progressive recommendations to upgrade the certification process of our country and bring it in line with the changing attitudes, needs, and demands of the 21st century. None of the committees supported excessive executive interv