Meaning of Censorship
The term'censorship'comes from the Latin'censere'meaningto give one's
opinion, or to assess. In ancient Rome the censors, two Roman magistrates,
conducted the census and regulated the manners and morals of the citizens.
Censorship's may be applied to both written and oral communications. Its span
encompasses books, magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, movies, dramas, paintings,
plays, speeches, dance, music, art, literature, photographs, mails, emails,
websites etc. deemed to be offensive, indecent, obscene and sexually explicit.
Censorship of Films
Films are considered as a great medium of communication with the people.
With the development and progress of the society and also with the progress in
the field of science and technology the films have undergone a sea change and by
adopting all the available technologies have been able to reach the masses and
also significantly contributed to the social and cultural development of the
country. In this way the films are equated with the Press as Press is also
considered as a great medium of communication. Both the films and the Press
enjoy the same status and right so far as constitutional freedom relating to
expression of ideas and spreading of ideas and messages are concerned. As is
known Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and
expression which is extended to the Press also. Therefore, both these mediums
are regulated under this provision of the Constitution. Simultaneously as these
freedoms are not absolute and subject to constitutional restrictions, both these
mediums are also to adhere to this.
As mentioned above, we have the Cinematograph Act, 1952 to see the films fulfill
the norms prescribed by the law. The Act provides for the establishment of a'Central Board
of Film Certification', the regulatory body for films in India
to issue the certificate to the makers of the film for public exhibition. As per
the provision of the law, the Board after examining the film or having it
(a) Sanction the film for unrestricted public exhibition;
(b) Sanction the film for public exhibition restricted to adults;
(c) Direct such excisions and modifications in the film before sanctioning the
film to any unrestricted public exhibition or for public exhibition restricted
to adults; and
(d) Refuse to sanction the film for public exhibition.
K.A. Abbas v. Union of India
is perhaps the first case where the
question relating to the censorship of films arises. In this case, the Supreme
Court considered important question relating to pre-censorship of cinematograph
films in relation to the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression
conferred by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The petitioner in this case
challenged the decision of the Board of Film Censors in refusing a 'U'
certificatefor him film "A Tale of Four Cities". While the case was pending
in the Supreme Court, the Central Government to grant the 'U' certificate
provided certain cuts were made in the film.
As the petitioner's grievance was completely redressed, the petitioner applied
for an amendment enabling him to raise the question of pre-censorship in
general, in order that persons who invested money in making films may have
guidance on this important constitutional question. The amendment sought by the
petition was allowed for consideration by the apex court. The following two
issues were before the court for consideration:
(a) That pre-censorship itself cannot be tolerated under the freedom of speech
and expression; and
(b) That even if it were a legitimate restraint on the freedom, it must be
exercised on very definite principles which leave no room for arbitrary action.
Taking into consideration all these, Hidayatullah, C.J. made it clear that
censorship of films including pre-censorship was constitutionally valid in India
as it was a reasonable restriction within the ambit of Article 19(2).
It was also observed that pre-censorship was but an aspect of censorship and
bore the same relationship in quality to the material as censorship after the
motion picture has had a run. However, censorship should not be exercised as to
cause unreasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression. Holding the view
that "pre-censorship was only an aspect of censorship and censorship of
cinematograph film was 'universal', Hidayatullah, C.J. went on to observe that
"it had been almost universally recognized that motion pictures must be treated
differently from other forms of art and expression, because a motion picture's
instant appeal both to the sight and to hearing, and because a motion picture
had become more true to life than even the theatre or any other form of artistic
representation. Its effect, particularly on children and immature adolescents
The court upheld the general principles which had been laid down for the
guidance of the censors and said that the test of obscenity and principles laid
down inUdeshi's caseapplied mutatis mutandis to an obscene cinematograph
In S. Rangrajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram
the Supreme Court again confronted
the question of censorship of films vis-a-vis Article 19(1)(a) of the
Constitution. In this case, the Madras High Court revoked the 'U' certificate
issued to a film entitled "Ore Oru Gramathile" ("In Just One Village"), and also
banned the exhibition of the film as there was some public protest against the
film. The film was critical of the reservation policy of the Government of Tamil Nadu. During the pendency
of the case, the film received the National Award by
the Directorate of Film Festival of the Government of India.
After the decision of the Madras High Court, the matter went to the Supreme
Court on an appeal and the court reiterated the importance of the freedom of
speech and expression and the role of films as a legitimate media for its
exercise. The Court was of the opinion that:
"if exhibition of the film cannot be validly restricted under Article 19(2), it
cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and precessions or
threat of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the Rule of Law and
surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect
the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed to handle the hostile
audience problem. It is its obligatory duty to prevent it and protect the
freedom of expression"
Again in Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon
known as the Bandit Queen case
, the Supreme Court considering the censorship
issue upheld the freedom of expression through films and removed the
restrictions imposed on the exhibition of the film "Bandit Queen"on the
ground of obscenity. In this case, the petitioner Om Pal Singh Hoon filed a
petition asking the court to quash the certificate of exhibition for screening
the film "Bandit Queen" and also to restrain its exhibition in India. It was
contended in the petition that the depiction of the life story of Phoolan Devi
in this film was "abhorrent and unconscionable and a slur on the womanhood
India." The way the rape scenes were depicted and the manner in which such
scenes were picturised was also questioned and it was also contended that the
depiction of Gujjar community in those scenes amounts to moral depravity of that
particular community. The Delhi High Court quashed the order of the Tribunal
granting 'A' certificate to the film on the ground that the rape scenes were
obscene. When the matter went to the Supreme Court by way of appeal, allowing
the appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the High Court and upheld
the decision of the Tribunal in granting the 'A' certificate to be valid. The
court was of the opinion that:
"The film must be judged in its entirety from the point of overall impact. Where
theme of the film is to condemn degradation, violence and rape on women, scenes
of nudity and rape and use of expletives to advance the message intended by the
film by arousing a sense of revulsion against the perpetrators and pity for the
victim is permissible."
The court rejecting the challenge under the provisions of the Cinematograph
Act, 1952 went on to observe that:
"We do not censor to protect the pervert or to assuage the susceptibilities
of the over sensitive. 'Bandit Queen' tells a powerful human story and to that
story the scene of Phoolan Devi's enforced naked parade is central. It helps
toexplain why Phoolan Devi became what she did, her rage and vendetta against
the society that had heaped indignities upon her."
Constitutionality of Censorship Under Article 19(1)(A)
The Supreme Court for the first time came across the issue of censorship of
films under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, inK.A. Abbas
v.Union of India
,in this case the Supreme Court upheld the censor of
films on the ground that films have to be treated separately from other forms of
art and expression because a motion picture is able to stir up emotions more
deeply than any other product of art. A film can therefore, be censored on the
grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held the view that "censorship of films, their classification
according to the age groups and their suitability for unrestricted exhibition
with or without excisions is regarded as a valid exercise of power in the
interest of public morality, decency etc. This is not to be construed as
necessarily offending the freedom of speech and expression."
Further the Court held that:
"Censorship in India (and pre-censorship is not different in quality) has full
justification in the field of the exhibition in cinema films. We need not generalise about other forms
of speech and expression here for each such
fundamental right has a different content and importance. The censorship imposed
on the making and exhibition of films is in the interest of society. If the
regulations venture into something which goes beyond this legitimate opening the
restrictions, they can be questioned on the ground that a legitimate power is
being abused. We hold, therefore, that censorship of films including prior
restraint is justified under our Constitution."
Constitutionality of censorship was also heldin S. Rangarajan v. P. JagjivanRam
case came to the Supreme Court in an appeal relating to the revocation of `U'
certificate to a Tamil film. Reversing the judgment of the Madras High Court,
the Supreme Court opined that:
"Though movie enjoys the guarantee under Article 19(1)(a) but there is one
significant difference between the movies and the other modes of communication.
Movie motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and
retention. In view of the scientific improvements in photography and production
the present movie is a powerful means of communication. It has a unique capacity
to disturb and arouse feelings. It has as much potential for evil as it has for
good. It has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or good
With these qualities and since it caters for mass audience who are generally not
selective about what they watch, the movie cannot be equated with other modes of
communication. It cannot be allowed to function in a free market place just as
does the newspapers and magazines. Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore,
not only desirable but also necessary."
Why Censorship of Films, Not The Press
After discussing in detail about the censorship of films, one question
automatically comes to our mind, i.e. why censorship of films, not the press?
This question was dominating the Indian scenario for quite a long period. To
find a clear cut answer we have to take in to consideration several other
factors and aspects along with some of the important decisions of the Supreme
The freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under our Constitution most
probably draws its inspiration from the First Amendment of the American
Constitution. The First Amendment which deals with freedom of the press is as
"Congress shall make no law respecting an established religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the Press;
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government
for a redress of grievances."
The American Supreme Court inAssociated Press v. U.S
the First Amendment observed that:
"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited market
place of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to
countenance monopolisatation of that market whether it be by the Government
itself or a private licensee."
If we analyse the American First Amendment it is clear that in the first place
it advocates for the freedom of the press, and secondly no restrictions are
imposed on the freedom of the press. But on the other hand Article 19 (1) (a) of
the Indian Constitution guarantees to all the citizens the right to 'freedom of
speech and expression' and this freedom includes the right to express one's own
views and opinions at any issue through any medium he likes. This right also
includes the freedom of the press or the freedom of the communication and the
right to propagate or publish opinion. But unlike American Constitution, this
freedom is not absolute, and is subject to restrictions imposed by Article 19
(2) of the Constitution.
Despite the restrictions, in our country the citizens and the press in real
practice enjoy this freedom to a large extent because in a democratic set up,
such freedoms are necessary and quite helpful for the proper functioning of the
democratic process. It has been rightly remarked by Justice Bhagawati inManeka
Gandhi v. Union of India
in the following words:
"Democracy is based essentially on free debate and open discussion, for that it
is the only corrective of Government action in a democratic set up. If democracy
means Government of the people, by the people, it is obvious that every citizen
must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable
him to intelligently exercise his right of making choice, free and general
discussion of public matters is absolutely essential".
It is clear now that the freedom of press certainly enjoys importance in our
democratic process as it seeks to advance public opinion and matters of public
interest by publishing it which enables them to form a responsible judgment. Our
Supreme Court through various judgments also upheld the dignity of the press and
freedom it enjoys by nullifying the attempts to put a curb on it. Accordingly
imposition of pre-censorship on a newspaper as held in Brij Bhusan case
prohibiting the newspaper from publishing its own views as in Virendra,or
imposing a ban on the entry of newspapers and its circulation as inSakal Papers
case,and in Romesh Thapper case
,or trying to put restrictions in some
way or other in Express News paper caseand the Bennett and Coleman
,were held by the Supreme Court as encroachment in freedom of speech
and expression and opposed to Article 19 (1) (a).
In all the above mentioned cases the Supreme Court has maintained that the
freedom of the press cannot be taken away and it would not be legitimate to
subject the press to the laws which take away or abridge the freedom of speech
and expression. In the words of Justice Mudholkar who gave his opinion in Sakal
Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India
"….the Courts must be ever vigilant in guarding perhaps the most precious
the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. The reason for this is obvious. The
freedom of speech and expression of opinion is of paramount importance under a
democratic Constitution which envisages changes in the composition of
Legislatures and Governments and must be preserved."
So far as censorship of films are considered, censorship is required because of
its mass appeal, the way the presentation and above all, the impact it leaves in
the minds of the persons both young and adult. Expression of one's own idea,
through the medium he likes is permissible under Article 19 (1) (a) of our
Constitution. The medium is vast. But using the films as a medium of expression
should be treated differently because this medium is not the same as reading a
book or reading a newspaper or magazine. So in the larger interest of the
community and the country restrictions as envisaged in Article 19(2) can be
imposed. The framers of our Constitution deemed it essential to permit such
reasonable restriction as they intended to strike a proper balance between the
liberty guaranteed and the social interests specified in Article 19 (2).
Over the years, the Supreme Court and the High Courts through various judgments
have contributed immensely in safeguarding the rights of the people of India.
Right of free speech and expression through motion pictures, is no exception. In
this section, some of the important judgments related to films and
documentaries, including few telecasted as television serials, are critically
examined to assess the impact of the judiciary.
For the first time before the Supreme Court the constitutionality of censorship
under the 1952 Act along with the Rules framed under it was challenged in the
case of K.A. Abbas v. Union of India
.The Supreme Court upheld the
constitutionality within the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution and
added that films have to be treated separately from other forms of art and
expression because a motion picture is "able to stir up emotions more deeply
than any other product of art".
At the same time it cautioned that it should be "in the interests of
society"."If the regulations venture into something which goes beyond this
legitimate opening to restrictions, they can be questioned on the ground that a
legitimate power is being abused".
Probably, the most important case regarding the problem dealt herein is the case
ofS. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram
.In the instant case, the
decision of the Madras High Court which revoked the 'U-Certificate' issued to a
Tamil film called 'Ore Oru Gramathile' (In One Village), was challenged through
an appeal before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the film had already won
National Award. The film criticized the reservation policy in jobs as such
policy is based on caste and was unfair to the Brahmins.It was argued
through the film that economic backwardness and not the caste should be the
criterion. The High Court had held that the reaction to the film in Tamil Nadu
is bound to be volatile considering the fact that a large number of people in
Tamil Nadu have suffered for centuries. Certain remarks were also made against
Dr. B.R. Ambedkarand several Tamil personalities.
The Supreme Court overruled the High Court decision and upheld the freedom of
speech and expression. It stated:
The democracy is a Government by the people via open discussion. The democratic
form of government itself demands its citizens an active and intelligent
participation in the affairs of the community. The public discussion with people
participation is a basic feature and a rational process of democracy which
distinguishes it from all other forms of government. The democracy can neither
work nor prosper unless people go out to share their views. The truth is that
public discussion on issues relating to administration has positive value.
The Court went on to add:
Movie is the legitimate and the most important medium
in which issues of general concern can be treated. The producer may project his
own message which the others may not approve of it. But he has a right to 'think
out' and put the counter appeals to reason. It is a part of a democratic
give-and-take to which no one could complain. The State cannot prevent open
discussion and open expression, however, hateful to its policies.
In doing so, the Court did acknowledge to have a compromise between the interest
of freedom of expression and social interests. Censorship is permitted only on
the grounds envisaged under Article 19(2) and the standard of judging a film to
be applied by the Board or courts should be that of "an ordinary man of common
sense and prudence and not that of an out of the ordinary or hypersensitive
man".It went on to observe that the anticipated danger should not be
remote, conjectural or farfetched but should have proximate and direct nexus
with the expression and equivalent of a "spark in a powder keg".
The Court criticized the State and emphasized that freedom of expression cannot
be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats
of violence. "It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression
since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State. The State cannot plead its
inability to handle the hostile audience problem."
There is no separate censorship required for television serials or films as they
are telecasted only if they are certified by the Board. An incident came up
concerning a television serial 'Tamas' (Darkness) which depicted the
Hindu-Muslim and Sikh-Muslim tension before the partition of India.
Appeal was preferred before the Supreme Court against the judgment of Bombay
High Court (which allowed the screening of the serial) inRamesh v.Union of
Indiato restrain the screening of the serial as it was violative of Section
5B of the 1952 Act. It was alleged by the petitioner that the screening of the
serial on Doordarshan (the State television network) would be against public
order and it was likely to incite the people to indulge in the commission of the
offences. The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court decision and dismissed the
Commenting on the reaction of the average men, the Court held that the average
person would learn from the mistakes of the past and perhaps not commit those
mistakes again. They concurred with the High Court that "... Illiterates are not
devoid of common sense ... and ... awareness in proper light is a first step
towards that realization".Incidentally, the serial was given 'U'
certificate by the Board.
In Sree Raghavendra Films v. Government of Andhra Pradesh
exhibition of the film 'Bombay' in its Telugu (the official language in the
State of Andhra Pradesh) version was suspended in exercise of the powers
u/Sec.8(1) of the A.P. Cinemas Regulation Act,1955,despite being certified
by the Censor Board for unrestricted exhibition. The suspension was imposed
citing the cause that it may hurt sentiments of certain communities. The Court
discovered that the authorities who passed the impugned order did not even watch
Hence, the Court quashed the order as being arbitrary and not based on proper
In another case, Doordarshan refused to telecast a documentary film on the
Bhopal Gas Disaster titled 'Beyond Genocide', in spite of the fact that the film
won Golden Lotus award, being the best non-feature film of 1987 and was granted
'U' certificate by the Censor Board. The matter came before the Supreme Court in
the case ofLife Insurance Corporation of India v. Prof.Manubhai D.
Shah.The reasons cited by Doordarshan were inter alia, the political
parties had been raising various questions concerning the tragedy, and the
claims for compensation by victims were sub judice. Upholding the freedom of
speech and rejecting the abovementioned arguments, the Court held: "... Merely
because it is critical of the State Government ... is no reason to deny
selection and publication of the film. So also pendency of claims for
compensation does not render the topic sub-judice so as to shut out the entire
film from the community."
The Court made it clear that subject to Article 19(2), a citizen has a right to
publish, circulate and disseminate his views to mould public opinion on vital
issues of national importance. Hence, any attempt to thwart or deny the same
would offend Art.19(1)(a). Under such circumstances, the "burden would,
therefore, heavily lie on the authorities that seek to impose them to show that
the restrictions are reasonable and permissible in law".
Award winning documentary film, 'In Memory of Friends' by Anand Patwardhan about
the violence and terrorism in Punjab, though granted 'U' certificate by the
Censor Board, was rejected by Doordarshan reasoning that if such documentary is
shown to people, it would create communal hatred and may lead to further
violence. The Bombay High Court quashed the order emphasizing: "Everyone has a
fundamental right to form his own opinion on any issue or general concern. He
can form and inform by any legitimate means."
In case of 'War and Peace', Patwardhan appealed before the FCAT against the
decision of the Board.The FCAT viewed the film and directed issuance of 'U'
Certificate, provided that Patwardhan carried out two cuts and one addition as
per its order. He challenged the order before the Bombay High Court. In its
conclusion, the High Court was very candid to hold that the cuts recommended by
FCAT were merely to harass the petitioner. Regarding addition, the Court
observed that it must be left to the discretion of the filmmaker.
As already acquainted with the fact that many of the movies on Gujarat riots ran
into controversy with the Censor Board, they required the Court's assistance to
see the light of the day. Allowing the film, 'Aakrosh', the Bombay High Court
aptly reasoned that riots were a part of history by then and hence:
... When the hour of conflict is over it may be necessary to understand and
analyze the reason for strife. We should not forget that the present state of
things is the consequence of the past; and it is natural to inquire as to the
sources of the good we enjoy or for the evils we suffer.
In another case, while overruling the FCAT's order to censor the movie, 'Chand
Bujh Gaya', the Bombay High Court inF.A. Picture International v.Central
Board of Film Certification
opined: "Censorship in a free societycan be
tolerated within the narrowest possible confines and strictly within the limits
which are contemplated in a constitutional order."
It strongly criticized the role of the concerned authorities:
"... The view of the censor does no credit to the maturity of a democratic
society by making an assumption that people would be led to disharmony by a free
and open display of a cinematographic theme. The certifying authority and the
Tribunal were palpably in error in rejecting the film on the ground that it had
characters which bear a resemblance to real life personalities. The
constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) that a film maker enjoys is not
conditioned on the premise that he must depict something which is not true to
life. The choice is entirely his".
InDa Vincicontroversy as well, the Supreme Court rejected the writ petition by
the All India Christians Welfare Association seeking a ban on the movie on the
ground that it hurt the religious sentiments of Christians. The court found no
point of objection when the Censor Board and the Central Government has given a
green signal. It also held that that no predominantly Christian country had
banned the film and there has been no definite reason forwarded by the
petitioners to ban the movie in India.In the States of Andhra
Pradesh,Keralaand Tamil Nadu,the respective High Courts quashed
the bans imposed by the State Governments and also imposed costs on the
governments. Upholding the right to freedom of speech and expression, the Courts
found the act of Governments 'irrational' and 'unconstitutional'. They were of
the opinion that the bans were imposed mechanically due to the veto of a few
sections of people who objected rather than arriving at a decision based on
In all those cases ofDa Vinci, it was alleged that the film violated inter alia,
Article 25 of the Constitution with respect to the Christian
community.Particularly in the case of Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court was
of the opinion that for a harmonious interpretation of Articles 25 and 19, it is
clear from a reading of those provisions that the rights under Article 25 are
subject to the other provisions of Part III; which means they are subject to
Article 19(1). It was also not clear before the court how the exhibition of the
film will interfere with anyone's freedom of conscience or the right to profess,
practice and propagate a particular religion. Moreover, the Court expressed that
under no circumstances 'blasphemy' is a ground under Article 19(2). The
reasoning makes greater sense when no empirical evidence across the world has
also proved the right to freedom of religion is better served, or protected with
or through blasphemy laws.
Another interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that irrespective of the effect
of the movies, there is often a call for a total ban without exploring any other
possibilities. The Supreme Court inState of Gujarat v Mirzapur Moti KureshiKassab
stated that a total prohibition under Article 19(2) to (6) must
also satisfy the test that a lesser alternative would be inadequate.
The aspect of right of the viewers with regard to freedom of information has not
gone unnoticed by the Courts. Freedom of information is, of course, inseparable
from freedom of speech. If a speaker cannot express a view, then hearer cannot
receive information. In the case ofSecretary, Ministry of I & Bv. Cricket
Association of Bengal
,it was held by the Supreme Court that freedom of
speech and expression includes "right to acquire information and to disseminate
it to public at large". Hence, Article 19(1)(a) also includes the right of
viewers. Further, inIndian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Pvt. Ltd. v.Union of
,it was held by the Supreme Court that the people have a right to
be informed of the developments that take place in a democratic process.
Finally, it is important to note that in the case ofUnion of India v K.M.Shankarappa
Supreme Court disapproved of the Government retaining powers by enacting Section
6(1) of the 1952 Act and declared it ultra vires the Constitution. It held:...
The Government has chosen to establish a quasi-judicial body which has been
given the powers, inter alia, to decide the effect of the film on the public.
Once a quasi-judicial body like the Appellate Tribunal [FCAT], consisting of a
retired Judge of a High Court or a person qualified to be a Judge of a High
Court and other experts in the field, gives its decision that decision would be
final and binding so far as the executive and the Government is concerned....
The executive has to obey judicial orders. Thus, Section 6(1) is a travesty of
the rule of law which is one of the basic structures of the Constitution... .
The Executive cannot sit in an appeal or review or revise a judicial
order.It emphasized that the only way to nullify the Court order would be
through appropriate legislation. Otherwise, "... the Government may apply to the
Tribunal itself for a review, if circumstances so warrant. But the Government
would be bound by the ultimate decision of the Tribunal."
On the apprehension of law and order problem, the Court reminded the
Government about their duty:
In any democratic society there are bound to be divergent views. Merely because
a small section of the society has a different view from that as taken by the
Tribunal, and choose to express their views by unlawful means would be no ground
for the Executive to review or revise a decision of the Tribunal. In such a
case, the clear duty of the Government is to ensure that law and order is
maintained by taking appropriate actions against persons who choose to breach
Some recent controversial films:
a) PK and the controversy:
Initially when PK was released it was a big
hit and also got a good response in the box-office and now it has been
considered as one of the highest earning film both in India and abroad. But even
after that the controversy erupted against it and some of the religious groups
started protesting the screening of the film and the film makers as it is
hurting the religious sentiments.
b) MSG (Messenger of God):
The controversial film the Messenger of God –
MSG is based on the Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was written,
produced and directed by the Dera Chief himself and Jeetu Arora under the
Hakikat Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. Banner with Singh in a lead role. The film was
supposed to be released on 16th January 2015 but was stuck with the censor board
for its clearance. The film underwent the Board's examination that raised
objections against the film alleging that it is showing the self-styled guru
projected himself as a godman.
The censor board refused to grant clearance certificate as according to it the
film was unsuitable for public exhibition. The producer of the film preferred an
appeal before the FCAT at Delhi. The matter was fast tracked by the FCAT and the
film has been cleared within 24 hours which normally takes 15 to 30 days as per
the procedure. The FCAT has directed the CBFC to issue the clearance
certificate. The film has been scheduled to be released with a mandatory
disclaimer on February 13, 2015 across the country targeting 3,000 to 4,000
screens. This has resulted into the resignation by the CBFC chief Ms. Leela
Samsonfollowed by mass resignations by the other board members.
In the meantime the film has also been banned by the Punjab and Haryana
Governments from the screening. Recently, a petition seeking directions to ban
the screening of the MSG movie in the States of Punjab and Haryana was filed
before the Punjab and Haryana High Court by Mohali based Sikh body – Kalgidhar
Sewak Jatha. The body argued that the screening of the movie, MSG would be a
serious threat to the law and order situation and peace of the States of Punjab
and Haryana. It is further alleged that the self-style head of Sirsa based Dera
Saccha Sauda (DSS), Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had tried to project himself as
messenger of God in the movie while he is an accused several heinous crimes
including rape, murder and castration of his followers. The cases are being
still investigated by the CBI officers.
The most recent case where in the judiciary stepped in and whipped the central
board of film certification on its overreach is that of the controversy
surrounding the film udta Punjab. In this case, the board refused to certify the
film UDTA PUNJAB which is based on the drug menace prevailing in the state of
Punjab. In addition to its refusal to certify, the board suggested almost 13
cuts in the movie as a mandatory measure to seek certification. However on
appeal by the filmmaker, the Bombay high court criticized the central board of
film certification for its conduct and poor way of handling issue. The court
made a very important observation that the board is not necessarily empowered to
censor films. The word censor is not found in the cinematograph act. The board
can make changes in the film but this power must be exercised in consonance with
constitutional guarantee and Supreme Court orders. It can be seen that the board
has wrongly widened its power which actually meant to be restricted to
certification of films for exhibition only, to now include within it the power
to censor also. Such an attitude of the board, which many a time is politically
motivated, can put the rights of the citizen in danger.
Suggestions And Conclusion
An urgent reform of the Central Board of Film Certification is paramount task.
The drive to change the certification ages as well as getting filmmakers and
industry voices in charge of the Boar is an indispensable change which needs to
be put into effect a soon as possible.
Various committees had been set up by the government in the recent past with the
aim of suggesting measures to bring reformation in the Boards. However little
has been done to implement the suggestions forwarded by these committees. The
Government of India did set up an Expert Committee an entrusted upon it the task
of reviewing and recommending ideas which can be put forward through legislation
which will regulate and certify as well as license the facets of this ever
changing a precocious art form. The Committee came up with its report after a
detailed study of the area of film certification and changing dimensions of
certification of films around the globe. The Committee suggested the following
principles for guidance in certifying the films.
While examining a film or causing a film to be examined for certification, the
Board should be guided by the following principles:
·The medium of the film should remain responsible and sensitive to the values
and standards of society and as far as possible the Film should be of aesthetic
value and cinematically of a good standard.
·Artistic expression and creative freedom should not unduly be curbed and
certification should be responsive to social change.
·The film should be examined in the light of the period depicted in the film,
context, containing theme and people to which the film relates and should be
judged from the point of view of its overall impact and the contemporary
standards of the country.
·Notwithstanding any stated above, a film should not be certified for
exhibition if in the opinion of the Board, the film or any part of it is against
the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the
State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or
morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the
commission of any offence.
·Subject to the provisions stated above in sub-section (1) and (2) above the
Central Government can issue such directions as it may think fit setting out the
principles which shall guide the Board while granting a certificate under the
Cinematograph Act for sanctioning films for public exhibition.
Apart from the suggestions mentioned above, the Committee also recommended
various other reforms which can be in initiated by the government in the
overhaul of the Certification Board.
However as of now, no reformative steps as suggested by the Committee have been
taken by the government in order to initiate the reformation process.
Another committee under the head of the renowned film maker Shyam Benegal was
setup by the Government of India in January 2016 to lay down norms for film
certification that takes into consideration best practices in various parts of
the world and to suggest practices which can aid the reformation in the
certification process by the Certification Board. Some of the major
recommendations suggested by this Board are:
·Certification Board should restrict its domain only to certification of films
in order to categorize the suitability of the film to the audience groups on the
basis of age and maturity.
·The Committee also suggested that the role of the Chairman of the
Certification Board should be curtailed to be of advisory nature only. The
Committee also suggested minimizing the size of the Board keeping in mind its
However, the Committee refrained from touching the restrictions imposed under
section 5.1(B) of the Cinematograph Act which in the opinion of the Committee
should continue to serve as the ground of refusal of certification by the
Cinema being an important instrument of expression of ideas and free thoughts
must remain unrestricted from any kind of censorship. Restriction of any kind
must not infringe upon the basic human right of expressing one's view in the
community of civilized societies. However at the same time one must keep in mind
the practical realities of the society in which such ideas are broadcasted. The
peace and security of the society should not be disturbed in the process of
expression of one's thoughts. Since cinema as a public expression can influence
the society at large, caution must be taken while exhibiting the film to avoid
any kind of chaos and threat to national security.
Henceforth, a balance must be maintained between the right of expression and the
duty to maintain peace in the society. The Certification Board must take a
balanced approach while reviewing a film and must take into account that the
harmony between freedom of expression and sense of security and peace in the
society is maintained.
BASU D.D, Law of the Press in India, Wadhwa publications, Nagpur, 2002.
CHATTERJI P.C, Broadcasting in India, Eastern Book Company, 2ndedition, 1991.
EASTERN BOOK CO, Media, Press and Telecommunications Laws Compilation, 2002.
MAHMOOD, HAMEEDUDDIN, The Kaleidoscope of Indian Cinema, East-West Press, 1974.
SATYAM RATHORE, A critical overview of censorship in Indian cinema in the
light of role of CBFC, Bharati Law Review, July-Sept, 2016, Christ University,
SUKANTA K. NANDA, International Journal of Science, Technology and Management,
Volume No.4, Issue No.1, January 2015.
GABE MOURA, What's Cinema, Elements of Cinema,www.elementsofcinema.com/cinema/definition-and-brief-history
BHASHIN LALIT, Media World and the Law, Universal law publishing co. pvt. Ltd.
New Delhi, 2010.
VIVEK DHUPDALE, The role of central board of film certification with reference
to right to freedom of speech and expression in the Indian film industry, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.
MADABHUSHI SRIDHAR,MEDIA LAW REVIEW, 2010, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
SUBHRADIPTA SARKAR, Banning Films or Article 19(1) (a), Legal Services
ALL INDIA REPORTER
INDIAN LAW INSTITUTE JOURNAL
SUKANTA K. NANDA, International Journal of Science, Technology and
Management, Volume No.4,Issue No.1, January 2015.
(1970) 2 SCC 780.
'U' Certificate means it is for universal exhibition. 'A' Certificate means
it is for viewing by Adults only.
Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1965 SC 881
(1989) 2 SCC 574.
S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagajivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574 at p. 583
(1996) 4 SCC 1.
'Bandit Queen' depicts the life story of Phoolan Devi, the dreaded dacoit of
yester years who was brutally gang raped and sexually assaulted. Subsequently
she retaliated and took the revenge by killing many people who were involved in
Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon, (1996) 4 SCC 1 at p. 1446.
(1970) 2 SCC 574.
K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, (1970) 2 SCC 780 at p. 797
(1989) 2 SCC 574.
S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagajivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574 at p. 583.
326 U.S. 1.
(1978) 1 SCC 248.
Brij Bhusan v. State of Delhi, AIR 1950 SC 129.
Virendra v. State of Punjab, AIR 1957 SC 896.
Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 30.
Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.
Express Newspaper (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578.
Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788.
AIR 1962 SC 305.
Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305, at p. 314-315.
Santokh Singh v. Delhi Administration, (1973) 1 SCC 659.
AIR 1971 SC 481.
Ibid at p. 489.
Ibid at p. 495.
Ibid at p. 495.
(1989) 2 SCC 574.
Caste wise they occupy the highest strata of the Indian society.
He is considered as the vanguard of Dalit (people belonging to the lowest
strata of the society) against social oppression.
S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574, 592.
Ibid at 593.
Ibid at 586.
Ibid at p. 595-596.
Ibid at p. 598-599.
It was based on a book written by Bhisham Sahni
(1988) 1 SCC 668.
Ibid at 679.
1995 (2) ALD 81.
Same provision was invoked to ban 'The Da Vinci Code' in the State of
AIR 1993 SC 171.
Ibid at 186-187.
Ibid at 186.
Anand Patwardhan v. Union of India, AIR 1997 Bom. 25,32.
Press Release, Icarus Films, supra note 37.
Anand Patwardhan v. Cent. Bd. of Film Certification, 2004 (1) MAH. L.J.
Ramesh Pimple v. Cent. Bd. of Film Certification, 2004 (3) MAH. L.J. 746,
AIR 2005 Bom. 145.
AIR 2005 Bom. 145.
Ibid at 150.
Court rejects petitions seeking ban on film, THE HINDU, June 13, 2006,
available at www.hindu.com/2006/06/13/stories/2006061314410100.htm
Lakshmi Ganesh Films v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2006 (4) ALD 374.
Kerala HC declines to ban The Da Vinci Code, The Times of India, May 25,
2006, available at www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1568062.cms.
Sony Pictures Releasing of India Ltd. v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2006) 3 MLJ
Indian Constitution, Art. 25 cl. 1. Freedom of conscience and free
profession, practice and propagation of religion- Subject to public order,
morality and health and to the other provision of this Part, all persons are
equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess,
practice and propagate religion.
See Agnes Callamard, Freedom of Speech and offence: why blasphemy laws are
not the appropriate response, 18 Equal voices 7, 9-10 (2006), available at www.eumc.europa.eu/eumc/material/pub/ev/ev18/ev-18.pdf.
(2005) 8 SCC 534.
(1995) 2 SCC 161.
AIR 1986 SC 515.
(2001) 1 SCC 582.
Ibid at 582.
Ibid at 585-586.
According to the statement given by Ms. Samson, the CBFC was under constant
pressure from the political parties as they interfere into the functioning of
the Board. She has termed the FCAT clearance as a mockery of CBFC and said she
had taken the decision to quit because of 'recent cases of interference',
'coercion and corruption of panel members and officers' of the censor board.
Retrieved from www.dnaindia.com/india/report-msg-controversy-another-cbfc-member-resigns-dera-chief-finally-speaks-2053124.
VIVEK DHUPDALE, The role of central board of film certification with
reference to right to freedom ofspeech and expression in the Indian film
industry, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.
SATYAM RATHORE, A critical overview of censorship in Indian cinema in the
light of role of CBFC, Bharati Law Review, July-Sept, 2016, Christ
Understanding India's dangerous history of film censorship and its
Report of the committee of experts to examine issues of certification under
the Cinematograph Act, 1952, www.mib.nic.in/writereaddata/documents/report_of_expert_committee.pdf.
Subhradipta Sarkar, Banning Films or Article 19(1)(a), Legal Services