It has proposed a bill to replace The Cinematograph Act, 1952

In a move that could eventually lead to a new legal framework for governing Indian cinema, with implications for free speech, an empowered committee —headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana — has proposed a model Cinematograph Bill, in a report submitted to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The Mudgal committee was set up earlier this year after the government felt the need to update The Cinematograph Act, 1952 in the wake of the controversy over Tamil Nadu’s ban on Vishwaroopam . I&B Minister Manish Tewari told The Hindu , “The trigger for the constitution of the committee was the decision of a particular State to invoke the law and order remit to ban the release of a certain movie, notwithstanding that the Supreme Court in the Aarakshan case had said that once a film was certified for viewing, the fig leaf of law and order could not be allowed to stand in the way.”

In a statement, the I&B Ministry said the committee had made recommendations on issues such as “advisory panels; guidelines for certification and issues such as portrayal of women, obscenity, and communal disharmony; classification of films; treatment of piracy; and jurisdiction of the appellate tribunal.”

A source closely involved with the conceptualisation of the report, on the condition of anonymity, told The Hindu : “We have suggested that the screening panel — which actually watches the movies and certifies it — be selected in a better, more careful manner.” There is a tendency to pack the committees with loyalists rather than experts. “There have to be certain minimum requirements.”

The source added: “We have also suggested that if anyone has a complaint against a movie, instead of moving to the court immediately, they should go to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). Its mandate can be enlarged.”

Another source, familiar with the committee’s workings, said they had recommended making the classification of films “more explicit.”

“The committee also felt that there had to be some legal check on States banning films. While they can’t be barred, such decisions cannot be arbitrary and must be vetted.”

Members of the committee included, among others, FCAT chairperson Lalit Bhasin, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson Leela Samson, and film personalities Sharmila Tagore and Javed Akhtar.

Mr. Tewari said he was happy that not only had the committee finished the report in six months, but it had also come back with a model bill.

“We will apply ourselves to it. There will be consultations, not only at inter-ministerial level but with other stakeholders if necessary. And then we will take it to the Cabinet.”