The Censor Board has said that I need to make extensive cuts to my film! What are my options?

The law says you have to appeal within 30 days to a tribunal known as the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). This tribunal can revise the decision of the Censor Board. However, the Central Government also has a lot of power to change the decisions made by the Board or the Tribunal. It can look into any film that is being considered by the Board, and can also look into any decision that has been made by the Board or the Tribunal. The Government can then make any orders to cancel or suspend a certificate, or to change a film’s certification (for example, from ‘U/A’ to ‘A’). They can also change the release of the film. Whatever the Government’s decision, the Board will have to follow its order.

The Government has to hear your side of the story first, and any order only remains valid for two months. The Government can also make this procedure private if it deems it ‘against public interest’ to make it public.

CBFC Actions

If you want to show a film/movie to the general public in a theatre, you have to apply to the CBFC for a certificate. Rule 21 of the Cinematograph Rules details the process for filing the application. The Board examines the film, and it also has to hear from you. Then, it can do any one of the following:

  • Release the film with one of 4 certificates:
    • U (unrestricted), meaning anyone can see the film
    • U/A (unrestricted but with adult supervision), meaning anyone can see the film but parents should use caution in allowing children under 12 to see it
    • A (adults only), meaning only adults may see the film
    • S, a rare certificate that means only certain professionals, such as doctors or scientists, can see the film
  • Tell the filmmaker to make changes to the film before it can be certified by the Board using one of the four certificates above.
  • Refuse to certify the film at all. The film may not be released.

Censorship of Films/Movies

Censorship is when an authority (such as the government) cuts out or suppresses communication. The official stance of the Government is that it does not censor films, it only certifies them.

For the general public to see films/movies, the Central Board of Film Certification has to certify them. Many films are certified only if they meet certain conditions and the filmmakers make certain changes to the film. This amounts to censoring, generally understood as blocking or hiding content from its intended audience.

The law says that the Board can refuse to certify a film if any part, or the whole goes against the sovereignty of India, or affects its relations with other countries. They can also take action if they think the film:

  • is indecent,
  • against morality, or
  • if it is likely to cause public unrest or defame anyone.

The Central Government also has the power to issue more ‘guidelines’ to help the Board decide how to proceed. You should read them for yourself.

Some of the things the guidelines say are –

  • Films should provide a ‘clean and healthy environment’
  • Anti-social activities, or drinking/drug use can’t be glorified, and
  • There should not be needless violence
  • Films shouldn’t cater to the ‘baser instinct’, or be ‘vulgar’.
  • It should not degrade women and sexual violence against women should be shown ‘to the minimum’
  • Anti-national or communal attitudes can’t be promoted

Showing a Film Without a Certificate

Showing a film without a certificate to the public is punishable in the following ways.

For showing an uncertified film, the punishment is:

  • minimum jail time of 3 months and maximum of three years, and
  • a fine between ₹20,000 and ₹1,00,000. 

The fine will be ₹20,000 per day if the person continues to show the film after getting a notice. A judge can reduce this punishment, if they have good reasons. By the order of the Court under Section 7 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the filmmaker may also have to forfeit the film to the Government.

For showing an adult or special film to children or people it is not certified for, the punishment is:

  • a minimum of 3 years jail time, and/or
  • fine of up to ₹1,00,000.

For making changes to the film after it’s been certified, the punishment is:

  • a minimum of 3 years jail time, and/or
  • fine of up to ₹1,00,000.

The fine can be up to ₹20,000 per day, if the film plays even after the notice. The Government can also take steps to forfeit the film.

Censorship of TV Content

A different set of laws deal with censorship on TV. The Government can:

  • censor channels or even entire cable operators like Star TV as a whole.
  • block any content which may cause hatred between groups or public unrest.
  • block content if it violates the code followed by all channels.

They have a broadly worded set of conditions. The content should not offend good taste or decency, encourage superstition or be derogatory to women.

Censorship on the Internet

Censorship on the internet can be done in two ways:

  1. The Government can block any content that it considers either a threat to national security. It can even block content which can disrupt public order or which would encourage people to commit a crime. When the Government blocks online content, they follow a procedure under the law.
  2. Internet service providers and social media platforms have a responsibility to remove any “illegal content”. Illegal content is anything that is grossly harmful, harassing or blasphemous. They have to remove it if they get an order from a Court.

Youtube, Hotstar, Netflix etc sometimes show uncensored films. The Censor Board said that they will demand that all applicants (filmmakers) cannot release censored portions of their films anywhere on the internet. The Cinematograph Act would not directly apply here.