As Viacom 18 and Sanjay Leela Bhansali finally managed to release the much-awaited period drama Padmaavat on the 25th of January. The whole path this movie has traversed even before its release has left a very unpleasant taste of strangulated artistic freedom in our palates.

The Supreme Court of Indian, on the 18th of January, 2018 while hearing a stay petition from Viacom 18 Pvt. Ltd. against the ban on the release of Padmaavat in Rajastan, Gujarat, Haryana cautioned the importance of artistic expression and held “it is the duty of the State to sustain the law and order situation whenever the film is exhibited, which would also include providing police protection to the persons who are involved in the film / in the exhibition of the film and the audience watching the film, whenever sought for or necessary.”

Protesters are vandalizing cinema theaters, schools from using songs from the movie in cultural programs, and threatening to “tear apart” the nation if the movie is released even after the final say of the SC.

Political susceptibility

In July 2017 a documentary made on Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen was asked by the CBFC to mute words like ‘cow’ “Gujarat”, “Hindutva view of India” and “Hindu India”   for a U/A certificate.

Last year Prakash Jha’s Lipstick Under My Burkha received a refusal to certification from the CBFC in a response citing the movie as “ Lady oriented, their fantasy above life.”  The response stank of the patriarchy and sexism prevalent in the society, making its way to curb artistic freedom.  The CBFC didn’t seem to care about fantastical nature of movies like Humshakals or Masti.  It also cited that the movie contained abusive language and “a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of the society”(read women).

Udta Punjab had to face backlash for having a reality-based approach to the youth crippling issues of drug abuse in Punjab. The underlining fact being the guidelines of the CBFC include almost twenty such points for certification of films. These guidelines are probably not as much conservative and vague as the CBFC paints it to be.

It is the political susceptibility that this board is entirely constructed upon, which is asphyxiating creative freedom perhaps. According to the Cinematographer’s Act 1952, for public exhibition of a film, a board is to be instituted by the central government under section 3. There is no mention of any qualification or any prerequisites for the Chief of the Board or any of the members. The Central government, under section4(5), may appoint any person as the center deems qualified to be a member of the regional boards as advisory panels to judge the effects of films. As according to section 5B(2) the Central Government may issue any guidelines as it deems fit for the certification of films. This unprecedented control of the center on the certifying authority has politicized decisions of the CBFC.

What could be done?

For starters, we could stand up for creative freedom and rid ourselves from preconceived notions. We could be a mature democratic nation which makes its own public opinion.

In 2016, the High Court of Bombay while cautioning the Central Board of Film Certification and the State in Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd V CBFC(Udta Punjab) held “the state and particularly the Central Board of Film Certification cannot in the garb of alleged public interest or audience taste mold shape or control public opinion.”

The Shayam Benegal Committee report suggested a few immediate changes required in the Cinematographer’s Act. Though a bill was drafted it has yet to be passed.

A few of its suggestions are:

  • The function of the board must be limited to and focus only on certifying of films
  • The guideline must be divided into three categories
    1. General
    2. Issue related
    3. Category Specific
  • Any cuts can be only made by the applicants depending on the certification he desires
  • Applicants must mention the
  1. Category of certification he seeks
  2. Target audience
  • Subdivision of the Categories. U/A category to be further divided into UA12+ and UA 15+ and A above 18 and A-C for above 18 with caution
  • The guidelines must give more priority to artistic Expression and creative freedom of filmmaking through an objective parameter. The guideline must make sure that the audience is empowered to make informed viewing decisions. The process of certification must be responsive to social changes.

These are some of the changes suggested which may tremendously change the way films are viewed in India. Perhaps an effort to rid the whole process of political or state involvement would help make the fraternity a more independent and free platform to voice ideas through celluloid

A Similar situation

In December 2014, Sony Pictures in America was all set to release The Interview worldwide, when its servers were hacked by a group called Guardians of Peace.  The Interview was a political satire based on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The group leaked personal emails amongst other documents. The group also threatened a terrorist attack on theaters exhibiting the movie, which cause a nationwide alert.

North Korea had heavily criticized the then president, Barack Obama for allowing the making of the movie. Sony Pictures had initially pulled the film down due to the threat to national security. However, critics including President Obama warned of the impending threat to creative expression if the movie was indeed shelved.

The movie made it to a few theaters but majorly was released online and via Blu-Ray and DVD. A movie that did cost Sony Pictures economically and caused its worldwide embarrassment, however to regardless release the movie online was a strong move towards standing up against political bullies to curb the creative freedom of expression.


The Supreme Court of India has reiterated on the importance of art on human civilization in its powerful stand against efforts to curb the artistic voice in the nation by saying , “it should always be remembered that if intellectual prowess and natural or cultivated power of creation interfere without the permissible facet of law, the concept of creativity paves the path of extinction; and when creativity dies, values of civilization corrode.” in its recent judgment in Viacom 18 Pvt. Ltd. V CBFC

This responsibility to stand up for creative or artistic freedom must not only be a fight of artists but also a fight of every citizen of the nation because it affects the whole civilization and not just the artists. It’s not only the question of artistic freedom of choice to watch or not to watch something. Violence has no place here.


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