Film Certification Issues

Film Certification Issues

This article deals with ‘Regulatory Bodies.’ This is part of our series on ‘Governance’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Cases in news

2019 Nanak Shah Faqir certified by CBFC but not allowed to be screened in Punjab  
2018 Supreme Court in case related to Padmavat has laid down the law: Once a film has been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), it has the right to state protection for screenings. States cannot suspend screenings citing law and order concerns. 
2017 Board refused to issue a film certificate to  Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017),  claiming film  portrayed a woman’s “fantasy above life” &  contained sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography that degraded the Indian culture. 

Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)

How CBFC work

  • CBFC was created under Cinematograph Act, 1952 & is a statutory body
  • Main function = regulate the exhibition of films
  • Headquartered in Mumbai
  • Central Government appoints  non-official members and a Chairman who constitute the Board 
  • CBFC has  nine Regional Offices  . 
  • Upon receiving an application for certification, relevant regional officer appoints an Examining Committee. Body assign each film to one of the four categories
    • U – Unrestricted public exhibition
    • A- Restricted to adults
    • UA –Unrestricted public exhibition (with word of caution that Parental discretion required for children below 12 years)
    • S – viewing by  special class of persons (for example: doctors)
  • If the applicant isn’t happy with the certification , he can apply to the Revising Committee
  • In case of persisting dissatisfaction ,  matter goes to independent Appellate Tribunal, whose members are appointed by I&B . Any further dispute goes to court.

Main Issues & Analysis

1 . Autonomy of CBFC

  • Cinematograph Act, 1952 empowers Central Government with overriding powers on censorship of films.
    • All members of CBFC including Chairman are appointed by and holds office “during the pleasure of the Central Government
    • Centre  can uncertify a film already certified.

2. Vagueness in language

  • Certification under Cinematograph Act, 1952 can be denied if it is against security of state, challenges sovereignty and integrity etc . All these are inline with restrictions on Freedom of Speech under Article 19(2)but  there is  no clause in Cinematograph Act that SC judgements on Article 19(2) should be kept in mind while making judgement. This create problem because CBFC interpret these terms vaguely and take upon itself the role of moral policing 

3. States overruling CBFC & Courts order

  • Even films with certificates have been stopped at the State level on a perceived threat to law and order. These include
    • Punjabi film Sadda Haq
    • Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroopam
    • Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan
    • Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela etc

4. Sticking only to Certification

  • CBFC does not always see itself as a certifying authority, but rather plays role of censor .
  • Even Shyam Benegal Report has suggested  that  CBFC should only certify a film.

Case for Censorship

A passage of a 1989 Supreme Court judgement (S. Rangarajan v P. Jagjivan Ram) says in part: “The combination of act and speech, sight and sound will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has potential for evil & Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary.’’

Shyam Benegal Committee

Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting constituted a committee headed by noted film-maker Shyam Benegal to look into revamping the film certification process by Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Committee submitted its recommendations . Most important among them were

  • CBFC should only be a film certification body
  • In case, film goes beyond relaxation under Article 19(2), CBFC can deny certification. But  CBFC will have to give proper explanation
  • Members of Regional Boards which are selected by government should instead be selected by bodies like Film Federation of India (FFI), National Commission of Women (NCW) , National Commission for protection of Child Rights etc
  • More Categories : CBFC should be more specific and apart from U category
    • UA Category can be broken up into further sub-categories – UA12+ & UA15+.
    • A category should also be sub-divided into A and AC (Adult with Caution) categories.
  • In order to preserve Indian Cinemaevery applicant be asked to deposit the Director’s Cut in the NFAI(National Film Archives of India)  for preservation of Indian Cinema, instead of the certified version
  • Out-of-turn certification may be permitted for which the applicant would have to pay 5 times the fee 


  • Still not clear that whether Supreme Court’s judgement will be kept in mind regarding  Article 19(2) 
  • Similar recommendations were earlier given by committees like  Justice  Mudgal Committee in 2012  but nothing came out after that. 

Way forward

Government should quit the arena of film certification and let the body setup by Industry decide film certification. This is the model in place in all the democracies. In US , rating system is overseen by an industry body (Motion Picture Association of America) & difference in the potential box-office earnings of films allows filmmakers to make decisions based on market logic

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