Censorship In Film Essay

The Censor Board or Central Board of Film Certification is a statutory censorship and a classification body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. The board assigns certification to films, television shows, television ads, and publications for sale, hire or exhibition in India. A film could be publicly exhibited only after the board has certified to do so.

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According to the Supreme Court of India,

“Film censorship becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has as much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or bad behavior. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication. Censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary.”

The history of Censor board goes way back to 1896, the year in which the first cinema came to India. With the production of the first cinema in India in 1913, Indian Cinematograph was passed which came into effect only in 1920. Censor Boards where then under police chiefs at various locations across the country.

After Independence, regional censors were put to an end and it was bought under the Bombay Board of Film Censors. With the accomplishment of Cinematograph Act, 1952, the board was unified and known as the Central Board of Film Censors and when the rules were revised in 1983, the board has come to be known as Central Board of Film Certification.

The Central Board of Film Certification has mainly four kinds of certifications:

  1. U – Universal – Unrestricted Public Exhibition through out India and holds no restriction for age groups. They might contain educational, family, or social oriented themes. They may also include fantasy violence or minimal or mild bad languages.
  2. UA – Parental guidance – This category explains that the film is suitable for all ages, however it is best if children below 12 are accompanied by parents, as the theme may be a bit inappropriate for the child. These rated films may include mature themes, mild sex scenes, sexual references, mild violence or infrequent use of crude language.
  3. A – Adults Only – This is restricted to adults audience only, that means those above 18 years of age. Films in this category may contain adult or disturbing themes, brutal violence, strong sex scenes, or scenes of drug abuse, which is not suitable for the minors.
  4. S – Restricted to any special class of persons – These rated films are for a special class like in the case of doctors.

The Censor Board consists of non official members and a Chairman, all of whom are appointed by the Central Government. The main headquarters of the board is at Mumbai and has nine Regional offices across the country being at locations like Kolkota, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvanthapuram, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Cuttack, and Guwahati.

The Advisory Panels assist the Regional Offices and the members of these panels are being selected by the Central government, selecting people from different walks of life for a period of two years. They have the two tier jury system, the Examining and Revising Committees.

India has the largest film industry in the world, making over 1250 feature films and short films every year. Being a very competitive field, film makers might go that extra mile as per their imagination to get that extra coverage, which at times may be appealing or may not be appealing.

Sometime violations may happen and it is at this instinct that film certifications are most required. Since audio video visuals create a stronger impact in the minds of the people, the need for certification is considered necessary so that a control and different ratings makes it clear for the category of the film and the viewers.

The CBFC makes sure that any film that has to be screened has to comply to the following objectives:

  1. The medium of the film remains responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of the society.
  2. The freedom of being artistic and creative will not be cramped.
  3. Certification is responsive to social changes.
  4. The film provides clean and healthy entertainment.
  5. The film is of aesthetic value and of good standards.

When all the set condition according to the Cinematograph Act, 1952 are complied, then only the board would be certifying the movie as per their grades.

By Mancunian Matters staff

The BBFC has just allowed the general release of The Human Centipede II, following cuts amounting to approximately two and-a-half minutes. The film is the latest to take centre stage in the ongoing censorship discussion.


By Kevin McHugh, journalist

Censorship of art is often denounced as undemocratic and a symptom of an ominous, Big Brother state. It’s seen as the tool of the oppressor – a system of control designed to repress individual thought.

But the censorship debate is a big topic that can’t be neatly placed into categories of ‘Right’ or ‘Wrong’. Films can inspire people, change attitudes and ignite something inside deep within. This is something that was recognised a long time ago and it has been controlled to some degree ever since.

The 1925 Russian film, Battleship Potemkin, was banned in many countries across the world as its story of a naval mutiny was deemed so powerful it had the potential to arouse outbreaks of social rebellion. The film only earned a British release 29 years later, and even then it was classified ‘X-rated’ until a further review in 1978.

The Battleship Potemkin example is one that highlights the dark side of film censorship: censorship for the control of society - and most people would disagree with that. The successes of film censorship are not so easy to judge as it’s impossible to witness its effects. However, the number of murders and incidences of violent behaviour directly related to films are well documented.

A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from theatres by director Stanley Kubrick after the film inspired several crimes that imitated scenes from the film and the Kubrick himself was threatened.

Natural Born Killers sparked a series of copycat killings following its release, including a link with the perpetrators of the Columbine school massacre. So-called ‘video nasty’ Child’s Play 3 is renowned by its association with the murder of two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 (though this association is now widely debunked - ed).

While it is over-simplistic to solely attribute these incidents to films (especially as the media makes a point of demonising any movie connected to an act of violence), the evidence shows that a certain level of control is necessary. Taken individually, we are all capable of great intelligence and reasoned thought. As a group however, we are typically mindless, easily led and self-destructive (e.g. last August’s riots; football hooliganism; Nazi Germany).  

In a perfect world, censorship would not be necessary. Children wouldn’t be exposed to films inappropriate for their age and every person would have the mental stability to clearly recognise the boundary between film and reality. But we don’t live in a perfect world - so while we can’t always monitor what our children watch, or predict what could inspire violent behaviour, we can take steps to protect the vulnerable in society through classification and censorship.



By Mary Hayward, Secretary of the Campaign Against Censorship

Censorship serves the same purpose in a democracy as in every system of government; it helps the people in power stay in power. The role that censorship of information plays in this is obvious - the role that censorship of the arts plays is less direct.

However, if an elected government can persuade voters that the arts are somehow dangerous and that those in government will ‘protect’ them with censorship, it may gain them support. The fact is that no government really wants those it governs to think for themselves.

By withholding not only information but imaginings, insights and ideas from its citizens it hopes to prevent them asking awkward questions and, perhaps, coming up with awkward answers – such as voting for somebody else.

Censors and would-be censors use the concept of ‘influence’ to try to justify what they do, because if the arts did not influence people they would have no excuse for doing it. Have you ever wondered why all ‘influence’ is assumed to be bad influence? If influence really existed it would work both ways.

In fact, the arts do not influence people’s thoughts and feelings, let alone their actions, unless they connect with something already present in those people’s personalities or experience. People choose what art they will look at, what films they will watch, what games they will play or what sites they will visit, because of who they already are. Horror movies are popular because they are about fear and we all know what fear is.

In principle, governments have a responsibility to make the arts readily available to anyone who is interested in them. However, this is something a government will be unwilling to do if it might possibly weaken its hold on power. That is why dictatorial governments practise more censorship than democratic ones. They are more frightened of letting people think.

 A government does have a responsibility to ensure - as far as possible (nobody can make shoppers read labels) -  that consumers have what they need to make informed choices about what they consume. CAC does not oppose certification of films as a guide for the consumer to what the film contains.

We do oppose bans and cuts. Film is an art form and works of art should be available as their makers made them, not withheld or mutilated by a censor.

Is film an art form that shouldn't be censored? Or do we need to moderate what adults view? Leave your thoughts on film censorship below.

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