SHYAM BENEGAL - “The right to cut a film should only belong to the person who make it

In the wake of the recent High Court judgment on Udta Punjab and the I & B Ministry hinting at radical changes in film certification in the next few days, Shyam Benegal is said to be the new CBFC chief in waiting. In a carefully worded interview, the eminent filmmaker talks about the Udta Punjab judgment and throws light on how the recommendations made by his committee could ease the process of certification for filmmakers and improve CBFC functioning.

By Manishaa R

What is your reaction to the High Court judgement on Udta Punjab?
I think it is an excellent judgement. Here is a film dealing with a serious subject and a serious social problem and you certainly cannot deal with it in a cavalier way.  

"A producer invests crores of rupees and has go through severe stress until he recovers the money on investment"

What do you have to say about the expletives in the film, which were sought to be drastically cut by CBFC?
As for the expletives, it depends on which social class one is talking about. There are so many different dialects in each language and there are people who use expletives as punctuation in common terminology. They do it without realizing it and it is considered common place.  

What do you think prompted the Government to revamp the CBFC and appoint a committee headed by you to look into the problems faced by producers?
The process of certifying films for viewing has been in existence for several years, as also the set of guidelines which were put together to classify films. Films were categorized under U, U/A and A categories, but the problem began to arise in the case of films which did not even qualify for an ‘A’ certificate. Those films apparently did not confirm to the guidelines in terms of moralistic content or excessive violence and the CBFC would mercilessly cut down those sequences that they deemed objectionable. The industry has had a long-standing grudge against the CBFC on this issue and there have been constant appeals to the Ministry that it should not tamper with the creative work of filmmakers. There have been committees in the past to look into the issue of censorship including the Khosla committee formed in 1983, followed by the Justice Mudgal Committee, whose recommendations were partly accepted by the Government. We were appointed to look into the problem areas of certification and how we could best resolve them to make things easier for filmmakers.   

What was your criterion in identifying the problem areas and arriving at the recommendations?
When we started off, we decided to look at the process of certification as a whole and minimize the anguish that producers undergo during the process of censorship. A producer invests crores of rupees on a film and he has to go through severe stress until his film is released and he recovers the investment on the film. In the business of films, certain elements like music, song and dance and even portrayal of sex and violence are all perceived as crowd pullers. These are seen as ingredients that bring audiences to the theatres. Producers generally feel that if you cut down these very portions from a film, it would mean that they lose out on an opportunity to recover their costs. The committee decided to look into all the problems and how they emerged over a period of time. The people who were part of the committee were directly or indirectly connected to the film industry be it filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, adman Piyush Pandey, actor-filmmaker Kamal Hassan, director Gautam Ghosh and film journalist Bhawana Somayaa. Prior to that, we sought opinions of people from sections of all walks of life be it producers, exhibitors, audiences, child rights activists, women protection groups and the general public.  

Your committee recommendations and the decision to restrict the role of CBFC to certify films have been reportedly hailed by the industry. The first and more important recommendation that we opted for was to restrict the CBFC role to censorship. I always felt that the primary responsibility of the CBFC was not to cut and censor films; the right to cut a film should belong only to the person who makes it. Nobody else has the right to tamper it. That was how we decided that the CBFC’s role would only be restricted to classifying films in various categories. I am glad that producers have hailed this particular recommendation.  

What was the idea behind introducing additional categories of certification?
Once the CBFC is restricted to certifying films, there should also be clarity about the category under which the certification is issued for various films. We decided to introduce additional categories in addition to the existing three categories-we classified the U/A category into two categories U/A 12+ and U/A 15 + since the level of maturity for teenagers between the ages of 12 to 15 is much less than those in the age group of 15 to 18. Also, we decided to have an additional category for the ‘A’ rating, which was called A/C meaning Adult with Caution. We created this category because there may be films that offend the sensibilities of people and do not qualify for general viewership. ‘A’ with caution is a category where you advise the audience what to expect from the film and also where the film should be allowed screening. For instance, you may have a cinema which is right in the middle of a family residency, where such a film may not be suitable. The certification will be an advisory not only for the people who make the film but also the exhibitors who will choose the theatres to screen it. There may be specialized areas where these films can be shows and ‘C’ in this case stands for caution.  

Despite the fact that all the suggestions are in tune with the industry, there is a big contention over Section 5 (B) 1 of the Cinematograph Act, which says that CBFC can refuse certification to films, which are deemed to be indecent or can create a law and order problem. Filmmakers fear that this would be more a matter of perception.
Section 5 (B) 1 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, stipulates that a film shall not be certified if any part of it is against the interest, sovereignty and integrity of the country, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or involving defamation or contempt of court or something that is likely to incite commission of any offence. If for instance, a filmmaker makes a comment against a particular community or something that is directly connected to the integrity of India in his film, it is a commission of offence against the community or our country in question. These clauses have also been incorporated in the guidelines that were issued in 1991, so there’s no problem about its clarity. I don’t see this clause being contentious because there will be a clear demarcation when it comes to such films. If a particular film is against the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, it is not perception. There’s no lack of ambiguity.  

There is also a section of producers who feel that the recommendation pertaining to a film being subjected to cuts for its television screening, will once again put the producer in a tight spot vis-à- vis the issue of censorship?
There is a certain anomaly so far in the case of rules regarding the public screening of a film. The same rule is not necessarily followed when it comes to screening a film on television because television has its own guidelines. That is something that we intend to unify because it is the same people. Television comes directly in to your homes and it is more about family viewing.  

Apparently you will be submitting your second report soon, after which the Government is likely to take a final call.
There are only two subjects that we intend to tackle in the second report, which relates to the issue of smoking in films and animal rights. As for smoking, there is a conscious attempt from not just the government but also health doctors that smoking is ruinous to health and is likely to cause cancer. In a film, a hero shown to be smoking is a strong influence and we as filmmakers, should not encourage it by any means whatsoever. We have to decide on how to deal with this subject because there have been complaints from filmmakers that every time there is a smoking scene you have to put a superimposed sign which disturbs the continuity of the film. The other issue is the treatment of animals in films. There are times when we as filmmakers tend to be apathetic towards the plight of animals when we project them in films. The Animal Protection groups have been complaining for a long time on the use of animals in films. We are looking at that and we are meeting them. Once we have dealt with these two subjects our report will be complete.  

Do you think the process of censorship of films, has often hampered the creative process of filmmaking and the CBFC revamp was long overdue?
CBFC is not meant to help people or encourage them to make good films. Its job is to see whether a film is suitable for audience viewing and if so for what age group. As is said, society changes and the principles need to change according to social change. We need to do to make course corrections from time to time. It is time we did now.  

There have been committees and reports in the past to improve the functioning of CBFC but the recommendations have hardly been implemented. What do you think is the likelihood of the Government taking up this one?
The mandate is with the Government and the mandate of the people is also with the Government. We are not an elected committee; we have been nominated by the Government to look into this on the basis of our own experience and knowledge about the business.  

There are reports that the I & B Ministry has already initiated the process of you taking over as the new CBFC chief. How far is it true?
This is a hypothetical question. There has not been any such development and I am not aware of any such move.

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