Can we remain silent when there is a proposal to muzzle our society’s voice of creativity and reflection? I have always believed in the power of cinema to transform society and I still do. The belief stems from my personal experiences as a film-maker and I have also seen first-hand what it is to defend one’s constitutional rights. The recent action of the Central government is one such. I am referring to the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 for which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked for opinions before presenting it to Parliament.
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The draft Bill
My icon, M.K. Gandhi, failed to realise the full potential of cinema and so did E.V. Ramasamy. Imagine if righteous people like them had taken cognisance of this platform? The power of this medium has made me what I am today. Cinema is an auteur’s medium. But it is also the voice of the people and hence the voice of the institution of democracy. Now the Central government is keen to seize that voice of democracy by a single act of Parliament.
Editorial | Coming soon: On new censor law
The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill proposes to add a proviso to sub-section (1) of Section 6 of the Cinematograph Act to grant revisionary powers to the Central government to direct re-examination of films that have already been certified for public exhibition. This is done predominantly with a view to empower the government to interfere and influence the independence of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in certifying films and, more dangerously, to reopen records of already certified films.
It is pertinent that we understand the present scenario to clearly perceive the excess of the proposed amendment. While the current censorship rules are archaic and redundant and we have been crying ourselves hoarse to abolish the same, inviting artistes to be their own censors, the amendment to provide for revisionary powers to any government after certification is a step further back. This amendment comes close on the heels of the government’s decision, in April 2021, to abolish the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. Consequently, the only resort available now to any film-maker who is aggrieved by a decision of the CBFC is to approach the relevant High Court which would be too expensive and time-consuming for most film-makers.
Through this amendment, the Central government has sought to usurp powers that are held to be “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court of India. Portions of Section 6(1) of the principal Act were held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Union of India v. K. M. Shankarappa (2000) . The Court held that “Section 6(1) is a travesty of the rule of law which is one of the basic structures of the Constitution”.
The impression that the Central government is trying to create now is that it is powerless to act against complaints received. I had the experience of a State government acting on a complaint and an imaginary scenario. I did showcase my film before its release to my brethren who expressed their apprehensions even after the Censor Board certified it. The imbroglio created over the film’s supposedly inflammatory nature led to the closing of doors of theatres in my own State, all due to political machinations. It is that avenue which this amendment opens out to any government to use its revisionary powers, which it anyway has.
The government is well empowered to act against complaints received, by submitting itself to judicial review against decisions of the CBFC granting certification, instead of trying to impose executive excess, which was the core principle laid down by the Supreme Court through its order. The Central government seems to have manipulated and manoeuvred this situation since the Tribunal has recently been struck down.
The draft Bill will only restrict freedom of speech and put a gag on the film fraternity, preventing film-makers from making films on bad governance, social evils, and so on. Further, any executive authority may be emboldened to ban films based on frivolous petitions of groups with vested interests or fringe groups.
In this age of the Internet, every person is more than a mere soapbox orator. The government is aiming to silence its people. All those who trust and are invested in liberty, equality and fraternity should voice their protest. If temporary myopia is the problem of certain sections of the media and other political parties, then the Makkal Needhi Maiam and I will become the torchbearer.
The time to rally is now, since the government has invited comments from the public till July 2 before the Bill is taken to Parliament. Acts once passed will affect generations to come.
Kamal Haasan is a film-maker and artiste and president of the Makkal Needhi Maiam