The Origin Story
When DadaSaheb Phalke released his first film Raja Harishchandra in 1913, there was no authority to review or pass this or any film in India. The idea of supervising films came in the year 1920 with the passing of the Indian Cinematography Act by the British. The Police Chiefs of the big cities acted as the monitors for the films being screened in their areas, and since the administration was almost nonexistent in small towns, most of the regional cinema was left uncensored. But it all changed with the country’s independence. The autonomy of the regional censors (Police Chiefs) was abolished and the Bombay Board of Film Censors became the one true lord of the censorship in India. In 1952, a new Cinematograph Act was implemented and the board was streamlined. This was the first time a set of specific rules were created to review a film for public display. In 1983, these rules were revised and since then the Central Board of Film Censors have now become the Central Board of Film Certification.
The Coming of Age
Since its inception, the Censor Board has been acting like a paranoid parent strictly monitoring what its kids (the general public) are watching. From feature films on the big screen to TV shows, music videos, animated series and even advertisements, almost every kind of visual content that is to be aired on TV or in theatres has to get approved by the CBFC. It’s a very specific power that gives you a control over the content makers of the whole country. And like any other power, this power corrupts too.
Related Read: How Censor Board earns revenue while reviewing films.
With its former CEO Rakesh Kumar held in a bribery case, CBFC has been the centre of controversies for the couple of last years. Leela Samson who sat on the chair of the board since April 2011, resigned from the post in 2015. Though she did not release any official reason for her departure, it was clear that the interference of the Government officials in the working of CBFC made Samson put down her papers. After Samson walked out of the door, the chair was given to veteran filmmaker Pahalaj Nihlani who is not known for making quality cinema. What Nihlani did in his time (and is still doing at the time this article is being written) is unprecedented. In his interviews, Pahlaj Nihlani talks about keeping the morals and culture of India on a high pedestal. According to him, our films should not muddle our culture and instead, make us feel proud. However, when one looks at the cinema that Nihlani made in his days, the word ‘Hypocrisy’ comes to mind.
Watch a Video Song From Andaz (1994 film)
(This Film was Produced By Pahlaj Nihalani)
The idea of censorship is becoming obsolete with the advent of the Internet in smaller parts of India. Unlike film theatres and TV, the Internet cannot be censored and so it leaves the general public with only one option — self-monitoring. Recently a picture made rounds of the social media that showed a list of words that were banned by the CBFC. This list contained words like ‘Saala’, ‘Haramzaada’, ‘Lesbian’ and ‘Bombay’. There was not a single word in that list that is not used in everyday conversation by regular Indians.
See The Image Shown Below to know the whole list of Banned words by Censor Board Of Film Certification.
(Image shared Via Twitter)
— Chirag Wakaskar (@chiragwakaskar) February 13, 2015
Nihlani also gained notoriety for cutting a kissing scene in the latest James Bond movie Spectre. According to the CBFC chief, he ordered the cut because the kiss was too long and unnecessary. By that logic, almost all of the Bollywood Masala films should have their songs and dance sequences cut out from them. But this is not possible because imagining a Bollywood film without song and dance is next to impossible.
Films like Masti, Grand Masti and Kya Kool Hain Hum (1,2,3) are cleared by the censor despite of being vulgar and crass, but a decent show on Comedy Central gets several scenes and words deleted, only because it has the potential of corrupting the general public. Right now we live in an age where uncensored and unrated content is widely available at the touch of a finger, but even then the government believes that it should decide what the audience is supposed to watch and hear. Many filmmakers in the past have tried to change this antiquated system in the past, but have faced the wrath of the administration. Legendary actor Dev Aanand’s brother filmmaker and actor Vijay Aanand once suggested that soft porn films should be accessible to the general public on TV. But not only his futuristic proposal was shot down, he was also removed from the board.
Currently, the board is under fire from liberal media and filmmakers alike for not adapting with the modern times. It has been suggested that instead of approving or deleting anything, Censor Board should only provide films and shows with ‘Ratings’. This new proposal suggests a complete overhaul of the current rating system in the country. Unlike US, UK and Europe, we do not have a diverse rating system.
The Ray of Hope
The things do not look good right now, but there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. After receiving so much flak from the public, the Government constituted a committee headed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal to look into the revamp of the CBFC. This move came out in response to the backlash generated from Pahlaj Nihlani’s casual swaying of ban-hammer. Also, it did not help Nihalni’s case that some of the members of the CBFC board voiced their complaints against the Chairperson.
The committee is working right now and we do not know what is going to happen. But the people have welcomed this sane response from the government.
Meanwhile, in its latest addition of the unnecessary censorship, the CBFC scissored the superhero movie Deadpool. The film was rated ‘A’, still the cuss words and a shot of three bad guys getting shot in the head with just one bullet were omitted from the movie. And the funny part is that everybody knew about these cuts because they are still available in the (red band) trailer of the movie that can be viewed on Youtube.
Video: Deadpool Red Band Trailer:
So, while the committee comes up with new ideas to improve the censor process in the country, we have no other choice but to wait till Mr. Nihlani finishes his term as the CBFC chairman. Till then, we need to think smart and come up with innovative ways to dodge this mighty Ban Hammer or morals and outdated cultural values.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author and it do not reflect the views of Filmmakers Fans