FICCI Valedictory function Press Meet Gallery

Speech of Smt.Leela Samson, Chairperson, Central Board of Film Certification

As the largest film producing country in the world, and as representatives  here who are involved in creating the most accessible form of art and entertainment with the widest reach, it is important for us to understand each other and assess where we are headed – as a community, as social representatives, and, indeed, as a nation. The badge of the largest film producing country in the world is worn by us all with immense pride. It is also something that we need to guard zealously and with a degree of responsibility. For ours is an constantly evolving society – economically, socially and educationally. It is also a society that is deeply rooted in strong traditions of differing cultures, foods, languages, customs and faiths.

The learned judge in Naraindas v. State of Madhya Pradesh 1974 : [1974]3SCR624 while dealing with the power of the State to select text book for obligatory use by students said,

It is our firm belief, nay a conviction which constitutes one of the basic values of a free society to which we are wedded under our Constitution, that there must be freedom not only for the thought that we cherish, but also for the thought that we hate.

The standards that we set for our censors must make a substantial allowance in favour of freedom thus leaving a vast area for creative art to interpret life and society with some of its foibles along with what is good.

FICCI Valedictory function Press Meet Stills

The Central Board of Film Certification, popularly known as the Censor Board, is one of the most maligned Government organizations in the country. Criticism against it arises mainly due to what is perceived as a lack of transparency on the part of CBFC, but also due to a lack of public awareness. The CBFC walks a tight rope between film makers who cry for freedom of expression and a public who pretend or genuinely believe they are custodians of the morals and values of our society. We all know however, that one man’s food is another man’s poison and that the ‘morals’ and ‘values’ of a particular society are not necessarily those of another. There is a need for the CBFC to constantly assess the public mood, current social trends and refine the process of Certification accordingly. For instance, the CBFC is often criticized for a lack of consistency in applying guidelines for certification. This is obviously true. However, the films that emerge from the different parts of this country are not of a type, those watching them are from differing social groups and enjoy hugely different tolerance levels for the various trends of sex, violence, exposure of the female or male body, politics or bloodshed. Humor alas, is not part of our psyche, not a part of our disposition, and conspicuously absent in our art expressions. As a result, we are quick to take umbrage at the least suspicion even of attack against our person, community, social type or religious affiliation.

To be honest with you, as a person with a background in the classical arts of our country, when I was asked to serve this organization, one of the first things that caught my eye was the logo – it was a sliced film. To me, it denoted a certain presumptuous and aggressive intent that baffled me. This is not what the organization is about surely? I asked myself. Is it still an organization with a rulebook authored by hardliners, with no hold over reality?

I believe strongly that it is best that we cease to identify the board loosely as ‘the censor board’, which is how the nation refers to the board. May I remind you that it is ‘the certification board’ and not ‘the censor board’? We have also recommended to our Ministry that instead of the ‘Central Board of Film Certification’, we call ourselves the ‘Indian Board of Film Certification’. We have moved emphatically into the global mainstream, and our nation has gained in stature in the global fellowship of nations. As such, the tag of Central from our current name has little relevance. Perhaps we may consider replacing it with ‘Indian’, which is what we are so proud to be.

As a dancer, and I might add a proud one, and I am sure the much admired actor, but also I would say with some satisfaction, the dancer, Kamal Haasan will understand the predicament of other dancers, especially the classical and folk dancer, who is often looked upon by progressive, intellectuals as conservative and traditional, and therefore far removed from contemporary mediums of art, like films. But to set the record straight, we are neither good, nor conservative. We deal with verse that drips of sringara and concepts of sexuality that surely need censorship! Fortunately for us, we have no Act that governs our expression and especially one that is caught in its own time warp with a Cinematograph Act that dates back to 1952!

There is the cause of the documentary filmmaker that I hope will find a solution in the days to come and catch the attention of the mainstream film maker. Very often, these men and women struggle to complete their documentary, dealing with subjects that are close to their hearts and to the conscience of society, with no guaranteed income, nor the certainty of pay-back. There is no forum in the country that the documentary can squeeze into, no pocket theatres for him to show with pride, no patience in civil society to view this genre of film. And yet hundreds of them continue to speak the alternate voice. To support them, we must propose a different categorization, and a different set of norms for their classification and payment.

All our esteemed filmmakers here would be aware how the certification process functioned – queuing, waiting, and leading inevitably, to what some have referred to as a national weakness – bribing. In order that we move forward in an atmosphere of complete transparency, we are delighted that we now have a process for applying for the classification of a film online. And what might be of immense satisfaction for all of you is that this online process includes a cut-off date by which the classification will be made, and that the issue of the classification will also be online.

FICCI Valedictory function Press Meet Stills

These changes are being introduced to reflect positive change. We intend to contemporize the new Bill.  I would like to reassure this gathering that the CBFC would like to be a facilitating body rather than a regulatory one. The current Board has a very good mix of members who truly belong to the film fraternity. We have scriptwriters, film critics , film directors, trade body representatives and so on and with this set up we expect to move in a direction where we can simply be a certification body. By moving our focus from certification to classification, we could aim to provide the filmmaking fraternity with the tools to reach out to their target consumer.

Indian audiences are mature and informed as far as the theme and content of films is concerned. Cinema mirrors society. Indian society is multicultural and multilingual and so is our cinema. The variety that Indian Cinema offers in term of language, genre, music, dances etc is unparalleled. And thankfully so! To celebrate our diversity we need to exercise tolerance and respect for each other and we have been doing that. Whenever we have grown intolerant we have paid a huge price.

My experience in the last few months as CBFC Chairperson has made me acutely aware of the importance of restraint and tolerance in a democracy like ours. Our own morals, our value systems, our particular political orientation, our social class, our religious affiliation – all this we zealously guard, but often forget to do the same for others. Aarakshan – a film that merely touches upon the issue of reservation without taking any sides ran into trouble, first with the National Commission of Schedule Caste and then with various State Governments.  The CBFC certified the film with utmost care. The film was banned in certain states and when the ban was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Producer, the apex court, commended the way in which CBFC certified Aarakshan. In fact the judgments said in no uncertain terms that CBFC is the final authority as far as the decision on public exhibition of a film is concerned. While we consider this to be a huge victory for CBFC, we are not satisfied. We want audiences and the film industry to place their faith in us and know that we are sparing no effort to do our job in a non-partisan way. We would like to be known as a body that works independent of political pressure and personal biases. Our integrity should be beyond question. We are not afraid of criticism, as long as it is not motivated by political and other considerations.

I might share with you a particularly disturbing experience CBFC had with a film called – Who’s there? – a small-budget film by an unknown director. The director put up an objectionable poster thaqt was out of sink with his film. A religious group in Mumbai complained to us about the poster and our office in Mumbai got the Producer to pull off the posters from major newspapers within 48 hours. We got the producer to send an apology to CBFC, to the complainant and to others who were offended by the poster. We screened the film again and showed the film to a senior member of the Church and to a sociologist. We assured the group that the film had no scenes to offend any one’s religious sentiments. But they refused to believe us and created all sorts of confusion in the minds of an unsuspecting public.  We hope our energy will not be wasted on such issues, which are politically motivated and for personal gain. The film industry depends on us to let them express freely. As an artist I understand and endorse the sentiment. But society in general expects the Board to act as ‘moral policemen’ and as guardians of societal values. We don’t believe in censorship, but it is expected and demanded of us.

One good example is Delhi Belly. We did not beep the abusive language in Delhi Belly. We just gave an ‘adult only’ certificate to the film. This step of ours was criticized widely we were told we were supposed to delete some portions and mute certain words.

I take this opportunity to appeal to film makers to keep cinema apolitical.  The arts should not be corrupted. Freedom of expression means nothing without reasonable restriction. I appeal to audiences too, to people of India to let our cinema flourish in an uninhibited and fearless climate. Protest and complain if you must but please keep political agenda out. We would not like to be used to settle political and personal scores. We are there to help you to make an informed choice about watching films and we cannot serve you if our energy is diverted towards fighting situations created by asocial elements. In next few years as Chairperson my priority is to make CBFC a modern, efficient, accessible and open minded organization. The industry is getting digital and we want to keep pace with you. With online facility you can do all your certification work sitting at home. We are digitizing the film data available to us. Our website will give you all the certification related information about a film no matter which part of India it was certified in. We have recently issued an order and put digital film certificate at par with the celluloid one. By the end of 2012 we hope to be able to give the industry IT enabled offices for certification.

The tradition of making of films in Tamilnadu dates back to early twenties.  It is also a fact that Tamil films were instrumental in the social awakening of Tamilnadu. This state has produced some of the best film-makers, actors and technicians of this country and an eminent personality like Sh. K. Balachandar, for example – has been awarded the prestigious Dada Saheb Phalke Award recently, for a life-time achievement in the film industry.

CBFC, Chennai is the second largest region in terms of certification of films.

Chennai region has certified 205 celluloid feature films in 2010 and 164 films this year up to October.

Tamil society is progressive and peace loving. However, it is also observed that Tamil films contain more violence than most others.

As per a Tamil Nadu Government notification, only films certified as ‘U’ would be eligible for getting a subsidy  apart from fulfilling other conditions.  Therefore, producers wish to get their films certified as ‘U’, irrespective of the content and treatment of the film.

Another problem faced by CBFC, Chennai is that the producers submit dubbed films as straight version with the supporting documents issued by Trade Bodies and Lab, in order to get tax benefit.

Along with an efficient system we also want our office and officers to be accessible to the industry. There will be transparency in functioning and officers will be advised to settle all disputes by dialogue and discussion. In fact the change in mindset has already begun. We need your support in taking it further. We assure you of our support in making Indian Cinema truly global in its reach and its content.

This is perhaps the first time that the Chairperson, CBFC is resident in Tamil Nadu. I would like to say that my door is open to any of you. Please do not hesitate. Our CEO – Ms.Pankaja Thakur is only a phone call away. We are there to serve you, and as long as it is not political, we will do it with a smile!

FICCI Valedictory function Press Meet Stills

FICCI Valedictory function Press Meet Photo Gallery