On April 1, 2016, the Tamil crime-thriller Metro, directed by Anand Krishnan, was denied a censor certificate because of the amount of violence in the content. The film is about the chain snatching networks in Chennai. After what the director called “40 days of struggle”, the revising committee overturned the decision and awarded the film an ‘A’ certificate. Even though the revising committee cleared the film without a single cut or mute, the crew were shocked with the Censor Board’s initial decision to refuse the film a certificate. According to a Deccan Chronicle report, certain officials even called the film “anti-social”.
Lead actor Shirish explains that while Metro has plenty of violence, it was thematically necessary, “It came as a shock when the Censor Board denied us a certificate altogether. A few days later, we provided the Revising Committee with paper clippings, and other news articles, to prove that the film was based on real incidents, and the violence depicted was necessary to the film.”
This wasn’t the first instance of a film being outright rejected by the Board. In 1991, RK Selvamani’s film Kuttrapathirikai, about former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, was denied a censor certificate by both the regional and revising committees. More recently, in September 2015, the trailer of Urumeen was rejected because it featured the tagline ‘Revenge is Always Ultimate’ along with a voiceover repeating the phrase.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has certain criteria that a film must fulfil, in order to get a certification. For the full list, see below.
The regulations also state that “Films that meet the above-mentioned criteria but are considered unsuitable for exhibition to non-adults shall be certified for exhibition to adult audiences only.”
In the past, CBFC cuts have often been a cause of controversy and criticism from filmmakers, critics, and fans alike. For instance, the CBFC decision on shortening a kissing scene in Spectre of India led to the satirical hashtag #SanskariJamesBond. Denying a certificate altogether, however, while not unprecedented, is rare.
In February 2014, the CBFC refused a censor certificate to the film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a documentary about the last phase of the war between Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in early 2009. The producers, in turn, accused the Indian authorities of “political censorship of unpalatable truths”. As a mark of protest against the decision, the filmmakers made the documentary available online, for free streaming.
Bollywood’s adult comedy Mastizaade, which released in January this year, also ran into problems in 2015 when the Censor Board officials felt that the content was too immodest, even for adult certification.
The Kannada film 3 Bittavaru Oorige Doddavaru, a satire on godmen and superstitions, was denied a certificate in December last year.
And just last month, certification was denied to the Hindi film Mohalla Assi, starring Sunny Deol, Sakshi Tanwar, and Ravi Kishen. The film is based on the changing face of Varanasi, and depicts the commercialization of religion, and the methods Sadhus (godmen) use to lure foreigners, all in the name of spirituality.
The film’s trailer has been online (albeit unofficially) for over a year now. Interestingly, it has been directed and written by a Censor Board member, Chandraprakash Dwivedi. In addition to a scathing critique of modern-day religion, a number of dialogues in the film use profanity, including some mouthed by a character masquerading as Lord Shiva.
Meanwhile, Ananda Krishnan says a denial of certification for Metro had astounded him, “Right from the pre-production of the film, I knew that we would not get a clean ‘U’ because of the depiction of violence, especially the issue of chain snatching. But whatever is depicted is also necessary to the film’s cause. We thought we would get a U/A certificate, but the denial of a certificate altogether is a shock. As the director, I do not think that the film is too violent to be denied [even] a certificate. Small budget films like ours have a small market, and the range of the audience too, is less. Now that the film has been certified ‘Adults Only’, the number of people who would want to watch the film would decrease too.”
Although the team could apply for a further revision, Anand wants to avoid further delays. The team has decided to go ahead with the release.
However, CBFC official and actor S Ve Shekher says that the regulations Censor Board officials abide by are clear, “Normally, a film first comes to the four-member Examination Committee (EC) and if a revision is applied for, the eight-member Revision Committee reviews the decision. Normally, the judgement of the EC must prevail in the RC and the Tribunal as well. If it doesn’t, it means that something was wrong in the initial evaluation of the film. Anyone can make a mistake. About Metro, when scenes portray the smallest details of how chain snatching is done, it may lead to people trying to do the same in real life. The tiniest detail is magnified to a great extent on celluloid. So we have to be careful about what is screened.”
S Ve Shekher also insists that most film makers are unaware of how certification works, and only focus on getting ‘U’ certificates because of the tax exemption, “We are quite liberal when it comes to censorship. But most newcomers, whether they are directors or producers, are unaware of the regulations. I have published a book in Tamil, explaining the regulations in an easy to understand way. Whenever we certify a film ‘U/A’ or ‘A’, we are asked to revise our judgement, so that the film gets a tax exemption. Tax exemption is meant for small budget films, as they are the ones that need encouragement. Why should a film with a budget of Rs.10 crore get a tax exemption?”
Clearly, judgement differs from person to person. As in the case of Mohalla Assi, there is often strong dissent even within the board. How else can we explain why some films, even with appalling content, still manage to get a ‘U’ certificate. And while certificates have been denied to Hindi films in the past, the battle for getting that ‘U’ certificate is unique to Tamil Nadu, thanks to the tax exemption issue. Too often, irregularities about the Tax Exemption board have been reported, from political vendettas, as evidenced in Udhayanidhi Stalin’s case, to last minute changes in the title, just to get the tax exemption.
Filmmakers would probably agree that after production has been wrapped up, film certification and tax exemption are probably the most harrowing phases of a film’s release. The film and its content are juggled between these two entities, with considerations that have little to do with plot, craft, or entertainment.
CBFC’s Criteria for Film Certification
i) anti social activities such as violence are not glorified or justified;
ii) the modus operandi of criminals, other visuals or words likely to incite the commission of any offence are not depicted;
iii) scenes –
showing involvement of children in violence as victims or perpetrators or as forced witnesses to violence, or showing children as being subjected to any form of child abuse.
showing abuse or ridicule of physically and mentally handicapped persons; and
showing cruelty to, or abuse of animals, are not presented needlessly
iv) pointless or avoidable scenes of violence, cruelty and horror, scenes of violence primarily intended to provide entertainment and such scenes as may have the effect of de-sensitising or de-humanising people are not shown;
v) scenes which have the effect of justifying or glorifying drinking are not shown;
vi) scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise drug addiction are not shown;
scenes tending to encourage, justify or glamorise consumption of tobacco or smoking are not shown;
vii) human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity;
viii) such dual meaning words as obviously cater to baser instincts are not allowed;
ix) scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented;
x) scenes involving sexual violence against women like attempt to rape, rape or any form of molestation or scenes of a similar nature are avoided, and if any such incidence is germane to the theme, they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown;
xi) scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided and if such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown;
xii) visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented;
xiii) visuals or words which promote communal, obscurantist, anti-scientific and anti-national attitude are not presented;
xiv) the sovereignty and integrity of India is not called in question;
xv) the security of the State is not jeopardized or endangered;
xvi) friendly relations with foreign States are not strained;
xvii) public order is not endangered;
xviii) visuals or words involving defamation of an individual or a body of individuals, or contempt of court are not presented;
EXPLANATION: Scenes that tend to create scorn, disgrace or disregard of rules or undermine the dignity of court will come under the term ”Contempt of Court”
xix) national symbols and emblems are not shown except in accordance with the provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 (12 of 1950).