Amol Palekar’s Writ Petition Demands a Transformation of India’s Film Censorship Laws

The provisions of these laws, Amol Palekar has said, have not been questioned in the last 47 years and have failed to keep up with the times.

New Delhi:  Actor-director Amol Palekar has challenged India’s censorship laws in the Supreme Court, arguing that decisions on making cuts and denying certification are largely arbitrary in nature. The provisions of these laws, Palekar has said, have not been questioned in the last 47 years and have failed to keep up with the times.

While maintaining that he is not arguing for an absolute freedom of speech, Palekar has said that “in light of new technologies and developments, considering the paradigm shift in mass media, it’s the need of the hour that we redefine, reclaim and resurrect contours of our individual freedoms. The law must adapt itself to cope with new situations if it has to satisfy human needs and to meet the contemporary problems of life.”

Palekar’s petition argues that while content on television and the internet is free from censorship, the same content is being altered, cut or deleted before being shown in cinema hall. This, he says, is “an attack on our right to equality”.

The writ petition also highlights the arbitrary nature of censorship today.

“…the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) routinely demands cuts of scenes or dialogue, failing which it denies certification to films for arbitrary reasons: Remove ‘Mann ki baat’ from a dialogue; get a NOC from the PM’s office for the title of the film ‘Modi ka Gaon‘, saying films are unsuitable for release because they are ‘lady oriented‘ … whereas films like Parched, Saat Uchchkke, Udta Punjab were cleared with an ‘A’ certificate but without any cuts [despite containing abusive language].”

The petition has also questioned the role of the judiciary, referencing the Allahabad high court’s demand that four scenes be cut from Jolly LLB 2 for ‘defaming the judiciary’. “Till now, the judiciary has played a role of a saviour of citizen’s fundamental rights. With this decision, one more predator of artistic freedom has emerged which needs to be seriously scrutinises,” Palekar has said.

In light of this, Palekar’s writ petition has made several demands based on how changes to censorship laws could make the system more fair and less arbitrary. His demands include quashing Section 4(1)(iii) of the Cinematograph Act, which allows the CBFC to carry out excisions amounting to pre-censorship, declaring the present CBFC incompetent to carry out functions under the Act, quashing a number of guidelines which are vague and can lead to arbitrary or subjective interpretations, and introducing specific qualifications necessary for appointments to the CBFC and other committees. He also wants documentary films removed from the purview of censorship altogether.

He has also demanded that recommendations of the Shyam Benegal Committee, which was set up to look into the norms and best practices on film certification, be put into action.

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