News & Cues: Rehauling Indian cinema – Updates on the Mudgal Committee Report

The controversy surrounding the ban on Kamal Hassan’s “Vishwaroopam” in February, urged the Government to set up the Mudgal Committee to re-examine film certification and laws governing cinematography in India. It’s been nearly 8 months and here’s a peak at their findings.

Remind me again, what was the ‘Vishwaroopam’ controversy?

‘Vishwaroopam’ is the name of the big budget movie directed and produced by Kamal Haasan. The movie’s plot is a story of espionage and terrorism, set in India, Pakistan and America. Scheduled for release in February 2013, the movie was suddenly engulfed by controversy for allegedly making anti-muslim claims and disturbing communal harmony. Convinced of the movie’s potential to create trouble, the Tamil Nadu Government ordered a ban on the theatrical release of the movie in the interest of preserving law and order in the State. The Tamil Nadu state ban effectively persuaded other States to also reconsider allowing theatrical release of ‘Vishwaroopam’, thereby adversely affective the movie’s commercial potential in India. Upset by the nasty turn of events, Kamal Haasan made several public pleas to the Government and the people of Tamil Nadu, calling the ban on his movie an act of cultural terrorism.

Ok, so then what happened?

The ban on ‘Vishwaroopam’ raised some serious questions about the laws regarding cinema in India and whether it was time to institute certain reforms. Additionally, the ban also brought into question, the guidelines governing film certification in India. The Central Board of Film Certification or the CBFC had given ‘Vishwaroopam’ the go-ahead for theatrical release however inspite of the certification, a State Government had chosen to call for its ban – was this within the scope of powers contemplated by the law and was the CBFC standards of screening, somehow proving insufficient?

What’s the deal with certifying movies and then calling for their ban?

To be clear, the CBFC is responsible for certifying a movie and effectively, determining whether it is suitable for audiences in India. Once certification has been awarded to a movie, thereby deeming it approved for theatrical release, no other authority has a say in preventing its release. This was something that had been decided in the recent 2011 case that involved the release of the Bollywood movie ‘Aarakshan’. Owing to the subject matter of the movie, the Uttar Pradesh State Government decided to stop the release of the movie. When the matter was taken up legally, the Supreme Court of India ruled against the ban stating that once a movie had been approved for audiences by the CBFC, no other authority could interfere in such a decision. If a particular movie posed a threat to the law and order situation in a state, then it would be upto to the relevant State Government to determine how to control such a law and order situation, without affecting the release of the movie. (You can read the decision here).

But that wasn’t exactly followed in the case of ‘Vishwaroopam’ right?

No, it wasn’t and this is one of the many reasons why the Central Government decided to set up the Mudgal Committee. The committee led by Retired Chief Justice of the Haryana and Punjab High Court, Justice Mukul Mudgal was set up to examine and revise the primary statute governing Indian cinema – the Indian Cinematographic Act, 1952.

And what about the Mudgal Committee now?

So far the committee has made some recommendations with respect to a range of issues including the representation of women in Indian cinema, a deeper understanding of the portrayal of communal disharmony, a re-examination of the scope of obscenity, the problem of piracy and guidelines with respect to film certification. Other areas of discussion have been the better selection of panel members responsible for film certification as well as more explicit and well thought out certification standards. The Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal is also being recommended as the go-to legal recourse instead of the courts in the event of lodging complaint against a movie.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and was taken from the Flickr photostream of nicksarebi
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and was taken from the Flickr photostream of nicksarebi

The Mudgal Committee has also suggested that pre-release screening be extended to the lyrical content of the audio-musical works of a movie as well. This is in keeping with the Committee’s suggestion that the definition of the term ‘film’ in the Indian Cinematographic Act, 1952 be expanded to also include songs, lyrics and advertising material. The committee explained that such a move was necessary since visual content was already being restricted to specific age groups, whereas no such regulation extended to a movie’s songs thereby exposing audiences of all ages to musical material that is both appropriate and inappropriate.

The Mudgal Committee’s work and findings come at a sensitive time in India’s socio-cultural history where the uncertainty with which we define certain social behaviour is reflected very persuasively onto our media as well. The larger question that the Mudgal Committee’s work poses relates to content regulation, and the manner in which such regulation affects audiences and artists alike. If this is something that has you thinking and you would like to share your doubts, opinions and queries then please do leave a comment or get in touch.

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