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The Cinematograph Act of 1952 and CBFC

         By Paluck Sharma

                                                     Assistant Professor

                                                     Faculty of Law


I.                   Introduction

Ever since visual actions first appeared, censorship has been a hotly contested subject. Consequently, it has been widely understood to mean an action or a mechanism that sets a system of limitations on the public expression of ideas, opinions, and conceptions. The primary goal of censorship is to correct and regulate the morals and values that are propagated among the general public because the propagation of ideas and opinions that are at odds with social norms and morals has the potential to incite violence as well as the development of false beliefs. With the help of censorship, the government manages numerous media portals. Executing this specific censoring goal is the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).


II.                What does the Cinematograph Act of 1952 entail?

A statutory agency known as the CBFC oversees public cinema screenings in India in accordance with the guidelines established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952.

The Cinematograph Act of 1952 established a number of rules that restrain how the public can communicate ideas, opinions, and imagination through films made by filmmakers. The social and political spheres are now exposed to new opportunities and contentious issues thanks to cinema. With the speed at which technology is developing, it is simple to misuse its wonders and portray ideas that are damaging to social norms.


III.             The development of Indian legislation and movie censorship

Technically, the idea of cinema censorship is a Colonial one. Silent films were first a form of personal entertainment in British India. However, as time went on, Indians began to enjoy watching films. As a result, rules had to be made regarding movie showings. To safeguard public decency from the screening of harmful films, the first cinematograph bill was put forth in 1917.

It is interesting to note that the Indian Legislative Council fought against the approval of a bill that would have promoted freedom. Regardless, the Cinematograph Act was authorised by the colonial government in 1918. The concept of film censorship was introduced in India by this Act, which went into effect on August 1st, 1920. Two topics were covered by the 1918 Act:


a.       granting theatres licences.

b.      a process by which films are certified as being suitable for public viewing. Without the authority’s approval, no movie could be shown. A separate authority was established.


The new administration decided it was necessary to keep film regulation in place after India gained independence in 1947. The Cinematograph Act of 1918 only received a few changes in 1949, nevertheless. A certificate limits audience to adults, and a “U” certificate allows for unlimited viewing. These are the two types of film certification that were established. Additionally, a national censorship board was to be established in place of a regional one under the 1949 amendment. Founded by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 1951, the Central Board of Film Censor. A combined law, the Cinematograph Act, was later passed in 1952, giving the federal government the right to establish a censorship board.


IV.             Creation of the CBFC

On June 1, 1983, the Central Board of Film Censors changed its name to the Central Board of Film Certification. The Cinematograph Act of 1952’s provisions are carried out and followed by this board. The Central Government appoints the chairman and the other members.


V.                Certification’s Goals for Film

The standards that the CBFC must adhere to when sanctioning films are outlined in Section 5B(2). The CBFC is mandated by the rules to make sure that the film medium complies with societal values.

a.       Artistic expression or the freedom to express it cannot be unreasonable restricted. 

b.      The certification needs to adapt to societal development. 

c.       The movie must offer entertaining that is both clean and healthful.

d.      The film must have good cinematography and be pleasing to the eye.

e.       The CBFC must evaluate the movie as a whole rather than from a single, prejudicial angle.


VI.             CBFC’s organisation

The CBFC is an association with two levels. There are 9 regional offices and its main office is in Mumbai. These Regional Offices aid in the film analysis. It is noteworthy to observe that the Central Government has nominated individuals from many walks of life to serve on the Advisory Panel.


VII.          The CBFC Board

The Board of CBFC has the official legal authority to accredit motion pictures. A Chairman and between 12 and 25 other members who are all selected by the Central Government make up the main CBFC Board. It is interesting to note that, unlike under the Cinematograph Act, no minimum qualifications are stipulated in order to join the CBFC.


The length of a member’s tenure is likewise quite variable; there is no predetermined maximum or minimum. In actuality, the Central Government’s pleasure governs the tenure. Whenever possible, the Central Government may terminate a tenure for good cause. However, the chairman’s term in office is limited to three years. With one exception, the chairman stays in office until a replacement is chosen. A specific regional officer oversees each of the nine Regional Offices. They are in Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Cuttack, Mumbai, and New Delhi.


VIII.       Activities of the CBFC

A movie’s suitability for public viewing is determined under the regulations of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. While certifying a picture, the CBFC must answer this question based on a few criteria. The CBFC has four categories under which it might classify and certify a film, or possibly decide not to authorise it at all. The CBFC is free to use reasonable judgement.


S- for a public display that is only open to members of a specific profession or group of people

U- for unrestricted public display or worldwide distribution

A: For adult-only public exhibition (those who have reached majority and are at least 18 years old).

U/A- for unrestricted public exhibition with a warning to the parents or legal guardians of children under the age of 12.

The Board is empowered by the Act’s provisions to order the deletion of an entire film or a specific scene, in addition to refusing to certify a particular picture or even approving only a particular scene. The Censor Board occasionally takes action to examine if the standards on which films are certified ought to be changed or not by gauging how the general public feels about certain issues. Under the CA, 1952, the CBFC is given the following authority:

a.       organise symposia or seminars with film authors, community leaders, and other relevant individuals working in the film industry. 

b.      assisting with local or nationwide surveys to study the perception of various cinema genres and their influence on the general audience.  



IX.             Judgements

The Apex Court ruled in Raj Kapoor v. State [AIR 1980 SC 285], a criminal appeal, that if a film certificate is granted by the censor board under Section 6 of the CA, 1952, the court shouldn’t ignore the decision because a professional committee determines whether a film is appropriate for the target audience. The expert committee is more knowledgeable, and their comprehension of the obscenity’s essential components is likewise superior.


The Delhi High Court outlined the broad legal principles that would apply in the case of Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology v. Chairman, CBFC [2011 IIIAD (Delhi) 289] that was connected to censorship issues in the landmark case of K.A. Abbas v. Union of India [AIR 1971 SC 481].  In 2011, the Delhi High Court outlined the following points:

a.       When making judgements, fair standards must be used.

b.      It is the petitioner’s (the government) responsibility to present evidence of obscenity.

c.       In order to assess whether or not a specific scene in the movie violates Cinematograph standards, the whole movie must be viewed and evaluated.

d.      Additionally, the petitioners need to demonstrate how the movie endangers public order directly and immediately.

e.       In general, courts shouldn’t ignore CBFC’s film-related rulings until found unreasonable.


The question of whether the Tamil film “Ore Oru Gramathile” should be given the “U” certificate was raised in S. Ranga Raan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574]. The exploitation of people based on their caste was supposedly condemned in the movie.


The Supreme Court ruled that a movie can receive a U certificate as long as there are no statements that suggest using illegal means to topple the government and no evidence of a decline in the country’s integration.


The appellants in Gita Ram v. State of HP [AIR 2013 641] were captured while displaying young males the blue movie “size matter” on their property. The wrongdoers were found guilty and given the appropriate sentences for a crime covered by Sections 292 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 7 of the Cinematograph Act also applied to them.


X.                The CBFC and the Statute both need change.

The CA, 1952 has been argued to be a rather antiquated statute in recent years. The colonial-era Statute has to be amended because of how society has changed and how visual entertainment has advanced. According to renowned filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, society has changed and must now advance to a new level. However, due to its antiquated nature, the old regulation limits some innovative options. The situation demands a change right away. The act’s passage date cannot be used to affect the current.


A few significant adjustments have been suggested by the Mudgal Committee. The necessity to rename the “advisory panel” to the “screening panel” was one of the most crucial recommendations. The committee additionally suggested that the panel should have nine members in order to promote language variety through representation.  A minimum of two female members are required. The Mudgal committee also stated that the current appointment procedure is more political than useful.


Additionally, it has been noted that many CBFC members lack a thorough understanding of Indian cinema and actual societal norms. 


A different recommendation was to increase the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal’s authority. It is proposed that tribunals, rather than courts, can consider cases involving objection to the movie. More so than the customary drawn-out court process, this would save time and resources.


XI.             CBFC criticism

For a variety of reasons, the CBFC has drawn criticism. It has been charged with acting arbitrarily while using the censoring power. Inexplicably, the CBFC has occasionally mandated the removal of crucial or compelling portions of a film. The biggest drawback of such orders is that they stifle filmmaking originality. Additionally, it displays a contempt for the hard work and commitment put forth by the cast, the director, and his supporting cast. In India, Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression.


A board with a lax attitude demonstrates how making arbitrary and pointless edits to a movie may waste time and money in addition to being unreasonable and pointless. This has been seen by many critics as a parody of the entire cinema community.


XII.          Conclusion

It is very evident that the CBFC is the official organisation in charge of overseeing film certification and public display. The Cinematograph Act of 1952’s requirements require the CBFC to put those rules into action.

It is essential that the CBFC meet the needs of both society and filmmakers. Filmmakers’ ability to publicly convey their ideas and opinions is intended to be restrained under the Cinematograph Act of 1952. Even though the Apex Court has often stated that the CBFC’s rulings should not be dismissed, we have seen a few significant judicial pronouncements where the Court has presented a more accurate reading of the CBFC’s true role as it pertains to the CA, 1952 regulations.

There are some complaints about the CBFC, including that it is unjust and that corruption and nepotism are impeding the transparency of this industry. The censorship criteria are evaluated on a regular basis to reflect audience needs, modern trends, and public acceptance. The primary duty of the CBFC is to enforce moral law. The Cinematograph Act of 1952 needs to be amended, but the CBFC also needs to be modernised.


XIII.       References

ü  Trishi Gupta, Media autonomy and Censorship: a study in Indian Perspective, Chapter V (2014).

ü  SUKANTA K. NANDA, International Journal of Science, Technology and Management, Volume No.4,Issue No.1, January 2015.

ü  Ranjit D. Udeshi v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1965 SC 881

ü  S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagajivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574 at p. 583

ü  K.A. Abbas v. Union of India, (1970) 2 SCC 780 at p. 797

ü  Virendra v. State of Punjab, AIR 1957 SC 896.

ü  Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 30.

ü  Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.

ü  Express Newspaper (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578.

ü  Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788.

ü  Lakshmi Ganesh Films v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2006 (4) ALD 374.

ü  Kerala HC declines to ban The Da Vinci Code, The Times of India, May 25, 2006, available at

ü  Sony Pictures Releasing of India Ltd. v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2006) 3 MLJ 289.

ü  Indian Constitution, Art. 25 cl. 1. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion- Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provision of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.


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