Trishi Jindal, Legal Associate, Koan Advisory
Content certification is in a state of flux – rapid digitalisation has undoubtedly made the job of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) – the nodal government body that is tasked with certifying feature films, much more complex. As Prahlad Kakkar said in a conversation with CBFC Member Ms. Vani Tripathi Tikoo, audience-feedback loops are becoming far shorter through direct to consumer offerings over digital platforms. As a result, filmmakers can no longer bank on opening weekend earnings. Instead, young filmmakers are focusing on creating cutting-edge, and at times provocative content, moving away from formulaic cinema that traditionally rode on the back of big-ticket film stars. Such new patterns of consumption and production raise pertinent questions for the CBFC, even as it evolves into its new avatar under Chairman Prasoon Joshi.
Zero Tolerance for Objectification of Women
While discussing the ethos underpinning content decisions at the CBFC, Ms. Tikoo asserted that the CBFC has unanimously agreed to follow a zero-tolerance policy for objectification of women in cinema. However, while determining what qualifies as objectification will be a difficult task, she explained that such determinations will necessarily be based on the context of the narrative.
Application to Online Media
With the emergence of several digital platforms, some voices have been in favour of expanding the CBFC’s remit to include certification of online content. In the past year itself, the Delhi, Bombay and now Karnataka High Courts have been asked to consider this proposition through Public Interest Litigations. Here, Ms. Tikoo stressed the need to distinguish between public viewing such as in movie theatres, and on-demand private viewing as in the case of digital platforms. As such, the CBFC is only tasked with certifying “cinematographs” for “public exhibition” under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which serves as the primary statute governing film content in India.
Ms. Tikoo also cautioned against tasking the CBFC with the role of ensuring child online safety vis-à-vis digital content. Noting the increasing use of technological mechanisms such as parental control pins currently provided by some digital platforms, she emphasised the role of parental supervision in ensuring safety for children online.
Reviewing Extant Laws
Even though the discussion on CBFC’s role in the digital era is now up for debate – the traditional framework of film-certification may itself need review. Ms. Tikoo highlighted the necessity of a legislative review of the Cinematograph Act, which was promulgated in 1952 and last amended substantively in 1981. Notably, in 2016, the Shyam Benegal Committee, was constituted to review extant certification laws and recommend a forward-looking framework for film certification, taking into account international best-practices and the need to preserve artistic and creative expression. The Committee submitted its report in April 2016, where it recommended steps like restricting the power of the CBFC to make cuts and modifications to films, introducing new categories of content classifications, shorter health warnings and revisions in the criteria for advisory panels. Ms. Tikoo clarified that the CBFC has provided its own response to the Committee recommendations.