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‘Censor board members need some education in art and cinema’

Senior advocate and former chairperson of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal Lalit Bhasin talks about how film certification is overstepping the law.

Censor Board, FCAT
Censor Board, FCAT

Certifying films is a contentious issue, and has become more so in recent times. Senior Supreme Court advocate, Lalit Bhasin, who was chairperson of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) from 2011 to 2014, finds everything wrong in the manner in which films are certified by the Central Board of Film Certification. A statutory body under the Cinematograph Act, the FCAT hears appeals against orders passed by the CBFC. In an interview toAnuradha Raman, Mr. Bhasin speaks of how certifying films requires a certain sensitivity.

Why have you suddenly decided to speak up now?

I find that people in the business of certifying films are going beyond the law dealing with certification. The directive issued by CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani to cut out cuss words and scenes from films — now put on hold following protests from board members — went against the provisions of the Cinematograph Act. He had no business sending out a directive on what to delete from films. I believe a film has to [be] viewed in its entirety. You cannot knock out a kissing scene or a cuss word without looking into whether it is integral to the film. Cuss words are quite naturally spoken in States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. A scene or a word may appear vulgar when taken out of context.

Aren’t you stepping on CBFC’s toes by telling them what to do?

When I was the chairperson of the Tribunal, it was our responsibility to see that the orders of the Board pertaining to deletions and variations were sustainable in law. We often found that political films were subject to a lot of censorship. To give an example, there was a film on the plight of fishermen of Tamil Nadu, which was denied a certification by the Board. The film depicted how fishermen were being harassed by the Sri Lankan and the Tamil Nadu government. The Tribunal found nothing wrong in the film. To give you another example, the Board during my time struck out scenes and dialogues from Sadda Haq — a film on the assassination of former Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh. The Tribunal felt the movie was realistic, but we suggested a few cuts that were agreeable to the producer and the director of the film. Although three States, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, banned the movie, the Supreme Court upheld our order.

Are you questioning the manner in which films are certified by the CBFC?

I feel that the members of the Board must have some education in [the] field of art and cinema. It is fine to say that people from all walks of life will be represented on the Board. But there has to be some minimum education among the Board members, who are finally appointed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

What are your problems with certification?

There is no uniformity in certifying films for television and those that are exhibited in theatres. I find television gets away by showing films at odd hours and escapes certification.

You were a member of the Justice Mudgal committee that recommended an overhaul of the certification process. Did you seek more powers for the Tribunal?

Not more powers but we said anyone who had problems with the contents of a film should be able to approach the Tribunal. At present, only the aggrieved party, namely the producer and the director, approach the Tribunal to appeal against a decision of the CBFC. The Mudgal Committee also felt that giving an opportunity to the people to come before the Tribunal would lessen the burden on the High Courts and the Supreme Court.Hindu

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