By Jawhar Sircar
The main thrust of the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023 appears to be on stopping piracy of films, which is easier said than done. The Bill prohibits carrying out or abetting the unauthorised recording and unauthorised exhibition of films. According to a report by Ernest and Young, the Indian film industry suffered a loss of about Rs 18,000 crore in 2019 due to piracy.
Though the government claims to address this problem of piracy, through this Bill —which is basically on censorship (not piracy), it has neither manpower nor expertise to tackle this sophisticated digital crime. It is likely to be ineffective as a quasi-judicial body like Censor Board just cannot function like a policeman.
The Bill is to control unauthorised recording of films (section 6AA) and their exhibition (section 6AB) as it t proposes imprisonment ranging from 3 months to 3 years and a fine of Rs 3 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. I fear that with such huge powers, corrupt inspectors may let loose a jungle raj of threats and blackmail on those who are not guilty, especially cinema exhibitors.
The central government has removed its appellate powers as it was getting caught in litigation. It does not need legal powers as it is in the habit of constantly interfering in the functioning of the Act and the administration of CBFC. Recently, a Union Minister has threatened those officials who cleared a particularly scene in a Hollywood film, Oppenheimer because he felt it was offensive.
In effect, it is this regime that decided on certification and promotion of divisive films like Kashmir Files and Kerala Story, and encouraged through publicity and tax exemptions. What is the point of an Act of Parliament or a so-called autonomous body like the CBFC if the regime can carry out its agenda of spreading hatred?
If the Ministry seeks to play the role of a policeman why does it not play it to control mobs that vandalise creativity of film makers both during the process of making a film, as in the case of Padmavat, and during exhibition?
This Bill substitutes the UA category with the following three categories to also indicate age-appropriateness UA 7+, UA 13+, or UA 16+. This is all too complicated and such fine tuning of age related matters will trouble hall owners. They will either be lax and then pay the price or be strict and face the wrath of the people.
Films with an ‘A’ or ‘S’ certificate will require a separate certificate for exhibition on television, or any other media prescribed by the central government. This is again a bureaucratic and political interference in the television industry and may affect OTT films like those Netflix and Amazon. The regime can do a lot of arm twisting and these new provisions may soon emerge as draconian.