The Joke That The “Central Board of Film Certification” Is In India

Posted on 15 July, 2016 by Team Wishberry

Image Source: Wikimedia

With the help of really good lawyers, plenty of media support and an epic Bombay High Court roast, Anurag Kashyap’s Udta Punjab survived the certification test by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). While, this might sound as justice in the filmmaking realm, there are plenty of litigants who’ve faced a similar situation but haven’t been able to get their way out.

So, let’s begin with what the CBFC does and how it works

The Central Board of Film Certification is a statutory body under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, which certifies each film submitted to them under 1 of the 4 categories: U, A, UA and S (S being a certification for viewers associated with a background in science; say doctors, scientists, engineers, etc.).

Each member of the body has to submit a report with necessary deletions, modifications and a certificate. The Chairperson will further administer this with a regional officer to initiate further procedures. Currently, Pahlaj Nihalani heads the CBFC, and the members of the panel are appointed for a period of 2 years by the Central Government, from different walks of life.

What’s the brouhaha surrounding the Censor Board?

Despite having a clear mandate of being a body that has the duty and power to “certify” films, it abuses its power and goes so far as to “censor” content. And that’s what the entire film fraternity is standing up against – censorship not certification. Beeping swears, blurring bold scenes and adding disclaimers of smoking being harmful throughout is something the CBFC does to all films. These bits and cuts most often are actions against the freedom and creative liberty of filmmakers, after all, how does one tell a story of a cussing, decadent drug lord without cuss words, drug abuse and nudity?

While most of the cuts in films are necessary for a ‘U’ certificate viewership, some cuts make no sense at all. Here are a few instances:

  • In an interview with DNA, Kangana Ranaut exclaimed about how a bra was blurred out for a scene in her National Film Award winning role, Queen.

  • Filmmaker Onir backing Bikas Mishra’s highly acclaimed debut project Chauranga, fumed at the cuts of the most vital scenes (love-making and murder) in the film.

  • Raj Amit Kumar’s Unfreedom, that was hoping for an ‘A’ certificate was denied a rating altogether, as the board believed that the film would provoke “unnatural passions”.

  • Debutant Shlok Sharma's Haraamkhor was declined a certificate as the entire theme of the film that depicts an illicit relationship between a 14-year-old and her tuition teacher, is “objectionable”; as if these things don’t happen in the world.

Ask any filmmaker (especially the indie lot), and they’ll tell you what a nerve-wracking struggle getting a certification is. It consumes time, energy, resources, and most importantly, money (the one thing that independent filmmakers anyway are short of). And if you don’t have an agent or some clout at the Censor Board, heavens help you.

So how do independent filmmakers fight this fight?

While the CBFC certifies films for public screenings and to be eligible to compete at the National Awards, filmmakers who simply cannot accept draconian cuts can go ahead with online distribution services like Distribber, which distributes the film through iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Cable VOD.

Qaushiq Mukherjee’s Brahman Naman, tagged as the ‘Wildest Sex Comedy’ at the Sundance Film Festival premiered globally on Netflix. In an interview with The Hindu, Q explained, “There is a marginalization of all films which are not in consonance with Bollywood masala genre supported by the distributors and it is a long battle which I have been fighting since forever, and it needed to be shaken to create a place for indie filmmakers. In my view, the digital distribution which is coming in through the platforms like Netflix will surely cut those middle men and the long process of getting the screens.”

It did take some time for Indian creativity to take over the web, but with the surge of digital distribution and newer platforms, the road ahead seems well-lit, although ridden with its fair share of challenges. Sure, a commercial film releasing Friday after Friday makes us cringe and slouch with despair, but if the sheer number of brilliant web-series popping up, it seems the fight isn’t lost. After all, all it’s going to take is some hustling, something our independent filmmakers are ready for.

Enjoyed reading this? Check out our list of Film Festival material indie films to watch on Netflix!

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