Actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan on Tuesday joined other filmmakers to oppose the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which proposes to empower the Narendra Modi-led government to order the re-examination of an already certified movie.
Many filmmakers have criticised this as an added layer of censorship to the already existing process.
This comes two months after the government dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal – a statutory body constituted to hear appeals of filmmakers who were not satisfied with the cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification. Producers seeking certification for their works will now have to have to approach High Courts if they have any grievances with the CBFC.
“Cinema, media and the literati cannot afford to be the three iconic monkeys of India,” Hassan, one of most prominent actor and filmmaker, wrote on Twitter. “Seeing, hearing and speaking of impending evil is the only medication against attempts to injure and debilitate democracy.”
Hassan also urged others to act and voice their concern for freedom and liberty.
His comments came on the same day when a group of filmmakers and academicians said the proposed changes would give the government overriding power over cinema and threaten freedom of expression in India.
On June 18, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting released the draft bill and sought public comments by July 2. In response, the filmmakers said that the amendments to the Cinematograph Act will make them “more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors”.
With the draft bill, the I&B ministry said it wanted to add a provision to grant “revisionary powers” to the government on account of violation of Section 5B (1) (principles for guidance in certifying films) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, a notification said.
Section 5B(1) of the Act states:
“A film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of 3 [the sovereignty and integrity of India] the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.”
The draft bill also acknowledged the existing Supreme Court order that the government cannot exercise “revisional powers” on films already certified by the CBFC. But, the ministry added that the “Supreme Court has also opined that the legislature may, in certain cases, overrule or nullify the judicial or executive decision by enacting an appropriate legislation”.
Many, including filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, have questioned why the government should be scared of movies. “Why are they so insecure and scared as to bring back something the [Supreme] Court has said no to?” he asked last week. “We are not an autocracy. Every citizen has a right to criticise the policies of the government in power.”
Tamil filmmaker Vetri Maaran, meanwhile, said this was the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s “way of trying to control the narratives”, The News Minute reported.