In India, no other form of human expression has faced more restrictions than cinema. Movies are not only sources of entertainment but also hold important messages for society. Films are thus equated with the press, as it is also regarded as an excellent medium of mass communication.Both enjoy the same status and rights as far as constitutional freedom relating to expression and the spreading of ideas is concerned.
The media is an essential part of society, and it allows portrayals of ideas, culture, and perceptions that mirror society. In fact, India possesses the largest film industry in the world in terms of number of films made, with about 1,500 to 2,000 films produced every year in more than 20 languages!
The Act of Censorship in India allows the Central Bureau of Film Certification (CBFC) to restrict movies or specific scenes from films that go against the Indian Constitution. Though this board is not alone in raking out these productions, it includes cheerleaders of “Big Brother.” These film censors tend to see themselves as classifiers, administering certificates that aim to control the type of audience that sees a certain movie.
Censorship may involve cutting out certain scenes or dialogue, or it may mean that the whole film is banned. It also may be applied to both written and oral communication, where its scope comprises books, magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, movies, dramas, paintings, plays, speeches, dance, music, art, literature, photographs, mails, emails, and websites that are deemed to be offensive, indecent, obscene, or sexually explicit.
Film censorship in India began in 1918, when Colonial Indians started producing and consuming more and more cinema. Though it was not as restrictive as it is currently, it still contained 43 objectionable subjects that the film couldn’t portray. Later in 1920, more censor boards were set up, and it became clearer what a picture should and shouldn’t show.
According to M. Madhava Prasad’s study, “The Natives are Looking: Cinema and Censorship in Colonial India,” Already in 1921, a “cinema expert” by the name of W. Evans had been sent to India to report on the film industry in the country. Evans had recommended stricter censorship rules and better implementation. Calls for stricter censorship had been voiced since 1913 (Shoesmith 77) in England and India, and in 1918 the Cinematograph Act was put in place in response to widespread concern. The colonial structure’s anomalous co-existence with the idea of a community of nations contributes to the peculiar tonality of the discussions about films in the colonies, and in particular in India. This is in part because while in other colonies the audiences for film were predominantly Europeans, in India the natives were also rushing to experience this new form of amusement in large numbers.
Now, productions in India are often banned for the following reasons: i) Sexuality; ii) Politics; iii) Religion; iv) Communal Conflict; v) An incorrect portrayal of someone or something; vii) Extreme Violence. They are then certified as: i) unrestricted public exhibition (U); ii) parental guidance for children below the age of 12 (U/A); iii) adult (A); or iv) viewing by specialised groups (S).
Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees to all citizens the right to “freedom of speech and expression,” and this freedom includes the right to express one’s own views and opinions on any issue through any medium one likes. However, this freedom is not absolute and is subject to the restrictions imposed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court holds the view that “censorship of films, their classification according to the age groups, and their suitability for unrestricted exhibition with or without excisions is regarded as a valid exercise of power in the interest of public morality, decency, etc.” This should not be interpreted as a violation of free speech or expression.
In other words, the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution can be suppressed if it is deemed objectionable, harmful, or necessary to maintain peace.The decisions of the Indian Censor Board can frequently curtail the capacity of filmmakers to express their creativity. Due to this, filmmakers in India have often been forced to refrain from producing cutting-edge cinema.
As said by Md. Tasnimul Hassan, “Censorship itself is harmful.” not just because it limits what moviegoers can watch. It also forces actors, directors, and scriptwriters to constantly look over their shoulders as they self-censor themselves.
Moreover, human expression can come from various forms of art, including music, dance, theatre, stand-up comedy, photographs, and films. Today, print, electronic, and social media are the common mediums of expression, and “freedom of expression” means the constitutional right to express one`s opinion by word of mouth, writing, printing, picture, or any other manner, including movies. However, censoring movies in the name of maintaining public peace, respecting the emotions of people, and similar other reasons is a nave and simplistic argument in front of freedom of expression rights. Clearly, we are only the largest democracy in terms of population, not quality.
As a result, when a film is released to the public, one of two things happens: it either receives high praise from its audience or it struggles to obtain censor clearance or, worse, it is banned.These restrictions on creators, in the writer’s opinion, are unnecessary. If immoral actions such as rape are caused by films depicting similar scenes, then why hasn’t the Indian Army’s recruitment doubled since the release of “Border” (1997)? Why hasn’t the agriculture sector thrived since Gabriela Paz (2009)?
To slide the blame from those actually responsible onto filmmakers is irrational, as those who commit any immoral activities should be the recipients of their own blame. Cinema, like any other form of expression, is an art form that should never be campaigned for or politicised in order to gain personal gain or to be used as a weapon of hatred.