Leela Samson, chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), agrees that the Central government regulations on depiction of smoking scenes and use of performing animals curtailed the artistic freedom of film-makers.

At a news conference in Kochi on Sunday, Leela Samson, chairperson of CBFC said the Union Ministry of Health's strict restriction on smoking scenes and the Ministry of Environment and Forests' requirements regarding depiction of performing animals ‘impinged on the freedom' of film-makers.

The press conference was held to brief journalists on the regional ‘samvad' the CBFC held with representatives of the Malayalam film industry on Saturday. At the samvad, the film industry representatives were outraged over the Union Ministry of Health's requirement that the legend that ‘smoking is injurious to health' be scrolled on screen every time a smoking scene was shown.

The samvad — in which several producers, directors, exhibitors, actors, and representatives of a host of film bodies and Minister for Cinema K.B. Ganesh Kumar participated — saw furious exchanges over the Ministry of Environment and Forests' directive that films showing animal should be vetted by the Animal Welfare Board before screening.

The film fraternity argued that this would cause inordinate delay in releasing them and that it also compromised the filmmaker's freedom of artistic expression.

There was only one Animal Welfare Board office in the country, based in Chennai, to which all the films made India were required to be submitted for clearance. Ms. Samson, however, said there were a lot of ‘misunderstandings' and ‘misinterpretations' over the regulations regarding smoking and use of animal actors.

She felt that films that depicted smoking scenes should display the statutory warning at the beginning and the end of the film. The requirement of scrolling the warning whenever a smoking scene occurred was unnecessary. Currently, films with a smoking scene were being classified as ‘UV' (for parental caution for those aged below 12).

Ms. Samson pointed out that the Cinematograph Act of 1952 was being amended and the amendments would bring certain changes in the film certification normsin tune with the times. (The draft Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2010 is currently before the Law Ministry). She hoped the Bill would be passed by Parliament next year.

Pankaja Thakore, chief executive officer of the CBFC, said the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the MoEF would jointly hold consultations with film industry next month regarding the controversial issue of use of performing animals in films. All sections of the film industry could present their views before the consulting committee and based on these consultations, a set of guidelines on animal depiction would be notified.

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