Amol Palekar moves SC for an end to film censorship

Why should films be pre-censored when content on TV channels are not? The petition moved before the Supreme Court seeks the upholding of ‘artistic freedom’

Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Saurav Datta

Actor-filmmaker Amol Palekar has reached out to the Supreme Court for directing the government to overhaul the ‘Film Censorship Regime’. A petition was filed on behalf of Palekar on Monday regarding this.

The petition points out that pre-censorship serves no useful purpose in the digital age. There are no law or rules to restrain content available on the internet; nor is there any pre-censorship for investigative reports, stings etc., shown over television.

Then, why should a board of censors sit together to decide whether documentaries – which are factual depictions of real-life events – should be allowed public viewing only with certain modifications or excisions as directed? Since pre-censorship of films and documentaries are anachronistic to the fundamental rights of equality and freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution, shouldn’t India’s Board of Censors be disbanded?

These stark questions form the pith and substance of auteur Amol Palekar’s challenge to the legal regime of censorship. Based on Palekar’s writ petition, the Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Centre and the Central Board of Film Certification (the Censor Board), asking for their response to the pleas made in the petition.

Against Prior-Censorship

On September 24, 1970, in the KA Abbas case, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled that because cinema was a medium which could easily excite the masses and (depending on the contents of the films) had the potential to incite violence, rapacious acts, or other illegal actions, or could corrupt society, there was a legal need to censor films before they were released for public viewing.

This decision is no longer in sync with the times – for it infantalises the audience – and should be overruled, the writ petition claims.

Palekar has also contended that the film certification or censorship regime unleashed by the Abbas ruling has turned into an uncontrollable behemoth, which willy-nilly pulverises the freedom of expression of some, while giving a free-hand to others.

It has also led to the creation of a parallel censorship regime, he claims, and gives the example of Jolly LLB 2. That film, granted a clearance by the Censor Board, had to suffer four excisions because the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, acting as a “predator to artistic freedom”, was of the opinion that the scenes were defamatory to the judiciary.

Invoking the fundamental Right to Equality under Article 14, he has asked why documentaries are required to carry disclaimers and implement excisions as directed by the Censor Board, when television programmes – which also depict real life events and incidents – are not subjected to the same restrictions.

Overhaul the Censorship Regime

Contending that there should be certification of films, and not censorship, Palekar has challenged the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Guidelines for Film Certification, 1991 and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 for violating the fundamental rights to life, equality and freedom of speech and expression.

Taken together, these laws, rules and guidelines mandate that only those films which are granted a viewer certificate should be shown in public. If the CBFC orders that certain scenes be modified or removed, and the director refuses to comply, then the film in question would be stuck. Not only can it not be screened in commercial theatres, it cannot also be shown on television or film exhibitions.

The writ petition also contends that those provisions of law which provide for appointments of members to the CBFC, its Revising Committees and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) be declared null and void.

Instead, the Shyam Benegal Committee’s recommendations, which were directed at radically reforming the censorship mechanism, should be implemented at the earliest, the petition contends.

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Published: 17 Apr 2017, 7:29 PM