Crisis among the censors

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:55 pm IST

Published - January 19, 2015 12:38 am IST

The >resignation of Leela Samson as the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and of several other members of the body, is a pointer to a deeper malaise in the institution. Ms. Samson has spoken of corruption, and interference by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the Board’s functioning. Her stand has the endorsement of many other members, who have also resigned, while Ministers have refuted the charge. Whatever the truth behind the resignations, the outgoing CBFC chairperson and members, while being on the right side of the debate on the functional autonomy issue, are clearly on the wrong side of the issue so far as the certification of one film is concerned. Their decision to deny a certificate to Messenger of God , featuring Dera Sacha Sauda sect leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has been overturned by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal with some riders. Apart from claiming that >Messenger of God promotes blind faith and encourages superstition, the CBFC had advanced no substantive argument on why it should not be exhibited. Ram Rahim Singh is a controversial figure and faces some charges, but merely because his film makes claims about his godly stature and miracle-making abilities, can it be denied a certificate? Many films are the products of creative imagination, and more absurd and obscurantist films have been allowed in the past. As a quasi-judicial body, the CBFC cannot really be aggrieved by the appellate forum’s verdict. Ms. Samson’s appeal to colleagues to quit en masse , saying they had been “made a mockery of by the powers of the Ministry of I&B over the film”, is not an appropriate reaction.

Perhaps it is the culmination of a series of unpalatable incidents, but if film certification in the country is indeed subject to “interference, coercion and corruption”, she and the other members ought to have raised the matter earlier and not in the context of their decision on one particular film being reversed. The government has contended that corruption, if any, must be a legacy of the earlier regime, and has asked for proof of interference in the Board’s functioning. However, it has been remiss in not reconstituting the Board even after the tenure of its members had ended. Fast-tracking an appeal, as in the case of Messenger of God , is a good thing in normal circumstances, but it has also to be seen in the context of the ruling party’s closeness to the Ram Rahim sect whose support it secured in the recent Haryana Assembly election. The situation presents an opportunity to reform the CBFC’s functioning, liberalise its approach and end the perception that it is packed with regime favourites who may not necessarily be best suited to evaluate the content of films.

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