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India needs better system of film certification and ratings

MUMBAI: In today’s day and age where the consumer is smart and ahead of the times, censorship of content including movies is antiquated. One should move to a better system of certification and ratings. There should be self-regulation.

This point was made at a session at FICCI Frames that looked at censorship issues in the country.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) constituted a committee, headed by the filmmaker Shyam Benegal, to suggest measures to help Censor Board members understand film certification.

Motion Picture Association India MD Uday Singh noted that the Benegal committee is relooking at the guidelines. He favours the system followed in the US where there is self-regulation. Getting a film rated is voluntary and a filmmaker can have his/her film play unrated if the exhibitor is willing.

“In India government-backed self-regulation will work. We have organisations such as ASCI and BCCC. In film we shouldn’t be stuck with something for so long,” Singh said.

The session concurred that it would be good if the committee had a wide range of people from parents and teachers associations to women, people under the age of 35. The process will be democratic. The issue is what the sensibilities of the committee members are. Once the certificate comes out, people will be free to decide whether or not they want to see the film.

Veteran film director Ramesh Sippy noted that the current CBFC system needs to be widened. It is not perfect, but it is better than what it used to be in the previous decades. In the US there is different certification for different age groups.

“Content is explained in a few words so that you know what you are watching. Reducing a kiss by 50% does not make sense. As long as what is on the screen is within the score of the story and subject, it is fine. How do you decide how long a kiss should be? How do you decide what is right or wrong?” Sippy said rhetorically.

He added that for content creators freedom with responsibility is important.

Balaji Telefilms group director and CEO Sameer Nair also said that there should be guidelines. He pointed out that subjectivity comes into play when it comes to censorship. “That is not good. Things should be clear. For instance during prohibition it was clear that alcohol was bad,” Nair said.

Nair is hopeful of Benegal making good recommendations. “People are easily offended. At the same time, content creators have the right to offend. It will be a delicate balancing act. If you have a broad set of parameters and take care of sensibilities, things will be fine.”

Balaji has a movie coming out which is said to be the boldest thing that the company has ever done. Nair said that the company is waiting for the new ratings and certification to come into play.

He also noted that self-regulation can be a slippery slope, but films might manage better than television. In the small screen a lot of curtailing is going on. So a show like ‘Seinfeld’ is full of bleeps. He noted that Indian society is touchy where one has a problem with things on social media with comedians. Just because adult comedies were made in the past, it does necessarily mean that they are now acceptable. Speaking about digital, he said that new forms of content and content creators would come in. The issue is how content will be censored given that digital is a brand-new medium.

Censorship also has structural issues. For instance, if animals are in a film, then one has to take permission from the animal welfare board. That can hold up things considerably. This also applies to films shot abroad, although organisations like PETA might have been alright with the film.

Sippy noted that it would not be a challenge to create awareness about ratings for films and what they mean. Awareness is already being created about smoking and drinking in films.

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