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Gagging Films

Cinema in India has played a crucial role in nation-building right from pre-independence days through the last seven decades and emerged as a powerful medium.

SNS | New Delhi |

The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has circulated before introducing it in Parliament is not only an attempt to silence the film fraternity, but also an attempt to restore revisionary powers of the Union government struck down by the Supreme Court two decades ago.

If a film is certified for public viewing by the Central Board of Film Certification, it would fall within the domain of the State governments. Therefore, it must be left to the States, as law and order is a state subject.  The proposed legislation could thus be seen as an attempt to weaken federalism. The amendments would also deprive the CBFC of its functional autonomy.

According to MK Stalin, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the Union Government, by attempting to amend the 1952 Cinematograph Act, is trying to go against the spirit of cooperative federalism and transgress the powers of the State governments and the CBFC, its own creation.

In letters to the Union Ministers concerned, Stalin said, “The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, has given rise to serious apprehensions not only in the minds of the film fraternity and film industry, but also among all well-meaning sections of society that cherish freedom of expression.”

The proposed amendment has made film making a very risky and uncertain industry because of the provision that enables the Union government to direct the chairman of the CBFC to re-examine a film after certification. It will only throttle the creativity of artists. The draft Bill to amend the 1952 Cinematograph Act comes just two months after the abolition of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, a statutory body that came to the rescue of film makers who sought to challenge the decisions of CBFC.

If anyone is aggrieved by the decision of the CBFC, the only option left is to approach the High Court which is time-consuming and expensive for a film maker.  Cinema in India has played a crucial role in nation-building right from pre-independence days through the last seven decades and emerged as a powerful medium. Freedom of expression is not subservient to the subjective satisfaction of the State.

The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution with reasonable restrictions listed under Article 19 (2), but such restrictions are to be imposed with great care and caution. The obsession of the government to exercise control and legislative overreach to curb any unfavourable expression does not augur well for democracy.

The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 2021, has an uncanny resemblance to the pre-independence Dramatic Performances Act, 1876, which gave colonial rulers the power to prohibit any play that was likely to incite feelings of disaffection for the government.