Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court pulled up the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for refusing to give a ‘U’ certificate to Chidiakhana, produced by the Children’s Film Society of India under the I&B Ministry. The CBFC had given it a U/A certificate. “You (CBFC) are a certification board and not a censor board,” the court said. A look at how the CBFC’s role is defined:

What is the CBFC organisational set-up?
The CBFC is headed by the Chairperson. The board comprises up to 25 members and 60 advisory panel members from across India, appointed by the I&B Ministry. While the board members are usually film and TV professionals, members of the advisory panel are often from outside the industry. The chairperson and board members serve for three years, and advisory panel members for two years. The CEO is chiefly in charge of the administrative functioning but the regional officers are part of Examining Committees that certify films.

Once a filmmaker applies for certification, an Examining Committee is appointed by the Regional Officer. In case of short films, it consists of a member of the advisory panel and an examining officer, one of whom has to be a woman. Else, it has four members from the advisory panel and an examining officer of who two persons are to be women.

How do they certify films?
Certification— unrestricted public exhibition (U), parental guidance for children below age 12 (U/A), adult (A), or viewing by specialised groups (S) — is decided by the Regional Officer based on reports by Examining Committee members in unanimity or majority. In case of a divided opinion, the case rests with the chairperson.

In the recent case, the reasons cited for granting a U/A certificate to Chidiakhana were that it had scenes of murder and attempts to murder, goons and guns, abusive language, bullying in school, children watching an adult song video on a mobile, a mother slapping a child, a suicide attempt, teasing of a child about his father’s name, winking at a woman, and discrimination faced by North Indians in Mumbai.

There have been precedents of other children’s films being certified U/A. In 2016, the CBFC gave this certification to The Jungle Book, the Hollywood film based on Rudyard Kipling’s book, drawing widespread criticism.

What if the applicant is not satisfied?
In most such cases, the CBFC shares a list of “suggested changes”. If the applicant is unhappy with the certification or the list of changes, he or she can apply to the Revising Committee, which is made of the Chairperson and up to nine committee members from both the board and the advisory panel. The committee cannot have a member from the advisory panel who may have already viewed the film. A similar process is followed at this stage, with the final word resting with the Chairperson.

The last point of appeal is the Appellate Tribunal, an independent body, members of which are appointed by the ministry for three-year terms. Any further dispute can be taken to a court.

What are ‘suggested changes’?
Under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the CBFC can “direct the applicant to carry out such excisions or modifications in the film as it thinks necessary before sanctioning the film for public exhibition… or refuse to sanction the film for public exhibition”.

Mumbai-based lawyer Ameet Naik, founder of Naik & Naik and a specialist in intellectual property rights, said the era of censorship is gone. “This is the certification board and not the censorship board anymore. Their job is to certify films based on this and the guidelines are fairly wide.” Naik said this is in consonance with Article 19 of the Constitution and Section 5(b) of the Cinematograph Act. “Cinema keeps changing over time. Today you may show homosexuality… because ultimately it reflects aspects of life,” Naik said. He said courts have laid down the legal precedents with cases such as Udta Punjab, Padmaavat and Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

What is Section 5(b)?
It states that “a film shall not be certified if any part of it is against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite commission of any offence”.

The reading of this guideline could vary from one CBFC member to the other. Certification is often decided on individual inclinations in the Examining Committee, whose members come from various walks of life.