Monday, July 4, 2016

No film should require clearances from three courts for release...

This article was first published on GNLU's only student run online magazine - Jury's Out.
‘Udta Punjab’ which released in theatres on 17 June, fought a rather uphill battle to get there. After the much publicised showdown with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in the Bombay High Court, the film got an A certificate with only one cut but the filmmakers’ legal troubles were far from over. Advocate Wattan Sharma had filed a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court calling for a ban on the exhibition of the film in Punjab alleging that the film reflects negative branding of Punjab and Punjabis, while Human Rights Awareness Association, an NGO approached the Supreme Court as well. Udta Punjab is far from the first movie to have to defend itself before courts in the face of petitions calling for bans. It is very common for groups to file Public Interest Litigation calling for a film to be banned on a variety of grounds including the most common ones of being against Indian culture or hurting religious sentiments. In recent years, ‘Finding Fanny’, ‘PK’, ‘Delhi Belly’, ‘Ram-Leela’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ and many others have been in this position.
No say for objectors within the certification process
The Cinematograph lays down the certification process that each film must go through before it can be exhibited at any cinema hall in India. First, a film is viewed by an “Examining Committee” formed by the regional officer of the CBFC office where it is submitted for certification. The Examining Committee decides which certificate is to be granted and decides the cuts to be made before it can be granted. If the Applicant is unsatisfied with the decision of the Examining Committee, the applicant may also request the Chairperson of the CBFC to refer any film to Revising Committee. The CBFC Chairperson can also refer the film to the Revising Committee on his own motion. The Revising Committee views the same film print shown to the Examining Committee without any changes and makes its own recommendations with regard to certificate and cuts. Both the Examining Committee and the Revising Committee can also refuse to grant any certification at all which in effect works as a ban on the film in India entirely since under the law, no film can be shown without a certificate. In 1981, the Act was amended and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) was created, adding a further step to the process. Now, an applicant can approach the FCAT against an order of the CBFC refusing to grant a certificate, granting only an S or A or U/A certificate or ordering for cuts in the film.
However the crucial part here is that only the original applicant for the certificate can lodge such an appeal before the FCAT. Thus, other groups or individuals who are offended by the film and wish that the film not be given any certificate at all (and thereby be banned) cannot approach the FCAT with their grievances. Thus, they resort to filing writ petitions before the High Courts or the Supreme Court and attempt to get films banned.
Amendment required
The present situation creates a situation where groups offended by a film approach the High Courts or the Supreme Court and in some cases like ‘Udta Punjab’ even both or several High Courts. This not only places an additional burden on these constitutional courts which are already burdened with more serious civil and criminal appeals but also creates multiplicity of proceedings where the filmmakers have to get clearance from the CBFC as well as various courts before releasing a film. As happened with Ram Leela and Udta Pubnjab, prolonged delays in litigation can cast doubts about the planned release dates of the movies as well.
One amendment that could easily resolve these issues would be to allow any person or organization which has an objection to the release of any film in any state to approach the FCAT against the decision of the CBFC granting a certificate to that film. In such a scenario, the FCAT which is a specialized film tribunal will be able to address the appeals of the filmmakers as well as the other interested parties in a single proceeding and its decision shall be final. The FCAT is adequately equipped to handle other petitioners’ legal and constitutional arguments as well since the Cinematograph Act already requires that the chairperson of the FCAT be a retired High Court Judge or a person qualified to be appointed as a High Court Judge.
Adopting such a procedure shall reduce the uncertainty that the filmmakers face and shall also help them to reduce legal costs as they would have to defend themselves before a single forum rather than many. Finally the courts shall be rid of the burden of the film related petitions and shall be able to apply their time towards more pressing legal and constitutional matters. It is high time that the Parliament realises that the time of three of its constitutional courts need not be spent on the matter of release of a single film.
This article was first published on GNLU's only student run online magazine - Jury's Out.

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