Members of film fraternity oppose Cinematograph Act amendments

A group of artists including actor turned politician Kamal Haasan, Farhan Akhtar, director Anurag Kashyap from the film fraternity have come out and opposed the the government’s proposed amendments to the 1952 Cinematograph Act.

They have said that the move has the potential to “endanger freedom of expression and democratic dissent.” Earlier this month, the Centre released the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 to the general public for comments until July 2. The new draft proposes to amend the Cinematograph Act of 1952 with provisions that will give the Centre “revisionary powers” and enable it to “re-examine” films already cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

A group of actors and filmmakers, including Anurag Kashyap, Hansal Mehta, Vetri Maaran, Nandita Das, Shabana Azmi, Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar and Dibakar Banerjee, have written an open letter to the Information & Broadcasting Ministry regarding the same.

The online letter with over 1400 signatories from different walks of life was drafted on Sunday evening by Eeb Allay Ooo! fame filmmaker Prateek Vats and documentary filmmaker Shilpi Gulati, along with an academician and a lawyer.

“As another blow to the film fraternity, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed new amendments to the Cinematograph Act under which the Central Government would have the power to revoke or recall certification of films which have already been cleared by the Censor Board. Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent,” the letter said.

“This will also render filmmakers powerless at the hands of the state as more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors. The proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act comes two month Centre dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) in April 2021.…,” read the excerpt.

Actor-politician Kamal Haasan also took to his Twitter and addressed the matter. Suriya too endorsed the objections.

Asserting that the government in power has no role in film certification, veteran director Shyam Benegal on Friday said filmmakers’ concerns over the Centre’s proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act are “natural”.

“The government, in this case, has no role to play because they’ve already set up a system- the CBFC. So why is there a need for the government to come back into it? Naturally, the filmmakers would be worried that why is the government so concerned”. Benegal added.

A lot of the artists who objected to the amendment are from the South Indian film industry, while the big-wigs of Bollywood are surprisingly silent.

Why are filmmakers opposing against it?

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting wants to add a provision to the Act giving revisionary powers to the Centre.

If Section 5B(1): principles for guidance in certifying films, is violated then the Centre can use its power to reverse the decision of the Central Board of Film Certification.

The draft comes shortly after the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal was abolished. It was the last place for filmmakers to appeal if they were dissatisfied with the certificate granted to their film.

“Since the provisions of Section 5B(1) are derived from Article 19(2) of the Constitution and are non-negotiable, it is also proposed in the Draft Bill to add a proviso to sub-section (1) of section 6 to the effect that on receipt of any references by the Central Government in respect of a film certified for public exhibition, on account of violation of Section 5B(1) of the Act, the Central Government may, if it considers it necessary so to do, direct the Chairman of the Board to re-examine the film,” it said.

Filmmakers believe that the proposed amendments will make them powerless at the hands of the state and more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors.