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What ails the Indian Censor Board?

With a top official from the CBFC accused of demanding a bribe, we take a look at all that’s plaguing this body

The industry is abuzz with reports that a top official from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has come under the scanner for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 70,000 for clearing a regional film.

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Two people, one including agent Shripat Mishra and panel member Sarvesh Kumar have been arrested and a house search of CBFC CEO Rakesh Kumar has also been conducted, a CBI spokesperson has said.

The song Babli Badmaash from Shootout at Wadala got an A certificate from the CBFC, which was revised later on
The song Babli Badmaash from Shootout at Wadala got an A certificate from the CBFC, which was revised later on

Turns out that this incident has come as a shock to the film industry, which has had a love-hate relationship with the board. Producer Mukesh Bhatt says that he didn’t expect things to take such a turn. “I have heard about corruption when it comes to agents, but never heard of an official’s integrity being questioned. But yes, the industry can witness healthy growth only if the Censor Board is free from the I&B ministry’s political motives,” he says.

hitlist spoke to some more industry people to get their take on all that’s ailing the Censor Board...

Fear-driven agendas
Filmmaker Prakash Jha says that while no state can ban a film if it has a Censor Board certificate, several states have done so out of fear of political parties or the moral police. “I think that the CBFC should be scrapped. I feel each filmmaker should have a self-certification card clearly stating the content of the film — violence or sex. Our society is mature enough to understand it,” he says.

Creative differences
Producers say that the board has introduced many rules that have hindered the creative process of a film. Objections to item songs, deleting scenes and words instead of blurring or beeping them out are some of the issues that filmmakers have raised time and again. Sudhir Mishra, who has had his share of run-ins with the Censor Board, says, “There is no need for five people to judge our films. Also, integrity of the committee members has to be impeccable and certifying a film is a specialised job. Whenever there is a film dealing with sensitive issues, it should be referred to the tribunal to resolve differences.”

Mishra adds that he keeps hearing how committees can be fixed and certification can be issued in favour of certain filmmakers. “I keep doubting why my films like Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin and Hazaron Khwaishan Aisi ended up with an A certificate while other films dealing with similar themes got U/A."

Heavy backlog
A board member, under conditions of anonymity, says that with a new panel not yet in place, the CBFC is short-staffed. “There is a heavy backlog — about 40 feature films and 100 video films are awaiting certification. There are only 40 people with us while there were about 150 members last term. Also, though the regional officer has discretionary powers to clear a film out of turn, a filmmaker should ideally submit his film 21 days before the release date,” says the member.

Loss of faith?
Vipul Shah feels that the certification process can lend itself to corruption. He says, “In such a scenario, the committee’s actions can be manipulated.” A former Censor Board official chimes in, “With incidents like this, people lose faith in the organisation and the people running it. Even the most fair decisions will now be put under the scanner.”

When contacted, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar said, “We will not tolerate corruption of any kind; we will take suitable action after the official report is submitted to us.’’ It remains to be seen as to how this will affect the industry and its future dealings with the Censor Board.

Not film-friendly?
Some Censor Board directives that had Bollywood riled up
>> Mahesh Bhatt filed a PIL against the ban on smoking scenes in films.
>> Anurag Kashyap moved court against static messages in smoking and drinking scenes.
>> The makers of Ragini MMS 2 protested scenes being edited out instead of the Censor Board muting or blurring them.
>> Babli Badmaash from Shootout at Wadala was initially given an A certificate by the CBFC. It was revised later on by the board.
>> The Censor Board has ruled that A certified films have to be recertified to U/A for screenings on television.
>> Now films can apply for certification only after a clearance from the Animal Welfare Board of India; producers want a simpler procedure in place.  

'It's a shame'
"I have heard the rumours for sometime. It is a shame. The I&B Ministry has weakened the CBFC in the months leading up to the elections and in the months it is taking for the new government to appoint a new team.

Leela Samson, Chairperson, CBFC
Leela Samson, Chairperson, CBFC

For almost a year, animosity ensued between the Board and the then Minister, Manish Tiwari, who showed scant respect for this institution.

This malaise started with the previous government when new board members were appointed without consulting or informing the chairperson. CEO Pankaja Thakur was threatened for doing her job. Unprecedented requests were made directly to the regional officers.

A new CEO should not have been appointed at this juncture. It is my belief that he was appointed to change the high sense of professionalism with which the organisation functioned. No communication has existed between the Ministry and me in these past months. The CBFC is an organisation in ruin.”

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