Ficci frames: Industry raises alarm over censorship

(From left) STAR India CEO Uday Shankar, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Secretary Ajay Mittal, filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Ficci Secretary General A Didar Singh, and Bollywood actor Jacqueline Fernandez. at Ficci Frames 2017 in Mumbai on Tuesday. Photo: Kamlesh Pednekar
STAR India Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Uday Shankar, also the chairman of Ficci’s media & entertainment committee, set the tone for the first day of the annual Ficci Frames conference, when he brought up the issue of censorship and the impediment it poses for the growth of creative talent in the country. 

Addressing the audience during the inaugural session of the media conference, Shankar said while India was celebrating rapid growth, he saw censorship as a “disturbing trend”.

“I am concerned if the Indian creative mind is in a position to respond to the pace of technological change with an equally rapid evolution in its creativity. The key reason for this is of course the censorship that we all have to put up with. As the world gets bolder, our censor authorities seem to be getting more and more conservative,” he said. 

The Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) has been on an overdrive over the past couple of years, with filmmakers being asked to make multiple cuts in their films. The most prominent was the controversy stirred while clearing Udta Punjab last year, where the alterations amounted to as many as 80-plus cuts. The film was finally released with fewer cuts than demanded, but made the exhibition and distribution sector, jittery since the fate of the film, was in peril. With such instances increasing, studios and producers end up losing money, which in turn impacts growth across multiple sub-sectors of the industry. 

He added that it was not only the CBFC, but also different sections of the society who seemed to have taken it upon themselves to be moral custodians. “In my view, the board generally reflects the dominant consensus of our society and there are increasingly more bodies, mostly self-appointed, who have taken upon themselves the task of censoring media content.”

The fear of a run-in with the CBFC, or worse, violence from fringe outfits like the one on the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati recently, has been prompting creative talent to self-censor, a major hindrance in the growth of the TV and film content industry.

Adding to Shankar’s observation, Colors CEO Raj Nayak said, “Firstly, one needs to clarify whether it is the certification board or the censor board. In case of the former, the instance of not clearing a film from release does not arise since all the board has to do is certify a film, meaning it will tell what audience the film is suitable for.”

Also present at the conference was Information and Broadcasting Ministry Secretary Ajay Mittal, who said that while creative freedom was paramount and provided through Article 19 of the Constitution, this freedom was not absolute and came with certain restrictions.

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