Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Written by: Tania Das K
Movies have always had a strong place among Indians. From Raja Harishchandra to the new movies releasing every week, they have always been dear to us. Films not only provide us with entertainment, but they are also powerful tools to express ideas and educate the general public. Movies have long been successful in bringing attention to neglected issues. But some of the ideas of the movies do not go well with all. There are movies showcasing or, at times, supporting violence, abuse, or vulgar content. Some movies can provoke people to the limit where they may become a threat to the peace and stability of the nation. This is where the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) comes in.
In India, before films are publicly exhibited they need to be certified by the CBFC. The CBFC, in recent years, has been in the news for recommending ‘cuts’ to some movies citing various reasons. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) often came to the rescue of the filmmakers in such situations. The recent Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 have been in news for dissolving some appellate bodies. One of the appellate bodies is the FCAT. The article looks into the role of the tribunal in seeking redressal and the impact of the ordinance on both the film fraternity and the judiciary.
THE TRIBUNALS REFORMS (RATIONALISATION AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE) ORDINANCE, 2021
The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, initially introduced as a bill in the parliament, was later promulgated as an ordinance, by the President of India exercising Article 123 clause (1) of the Indian Constitution. The ordinance seeks to transfer the power of hearing of appeals from eight appellate bodies to judicial bodies.
One of the widely discussed amendments brought by the ordinance relates to the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The ordinance scraps the appellate authority against the decisions of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body, was set up to adjudicate appeals by aggrieved filmmakers against the decisions and recommendations made by the CBFC. The ordinance replaces the word “tribunal” with “High Court'' in some sections of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and omits some other sections or subsections.
ROLE OF THE TRIBUNAL
Before the FCAT, if the filmmakers had to reach out to the courts if they wanted to challenge or seek redressal of the certification or suggestions made by the CBFC. After the FCAT was set up, in 1983, through the Cinematograph Act, 1952 the filmmakers could approach the FCAT, which decided upon the issue after hearing from both the petitioners and the Certification Board. The decisions by the FCAT were swift and it charged only a nominal fee to screen the film for its members. The FCAT acted as a buffer between the Board and the filmmakers. Now, this recourse is not available. After the amendment, the aggrieved parties have to approach the judicial bodies.
The FCAT has had a more progressive and open approach compared to the CBFC. The FCAT comprises members mostly from the film industry and they arrive at the decision after carefully listening to both sides: the filmmakers and the CBFC. They are more likely to give recommendations keeping in my mind the context and meaning of the scene. In 1995, FCAT unanimously overruled the revising committees’ recommendations for the film Bandit Queen. The committee had recommended more than 100 cuts to film. But the FCAT came to the film’s rescue and gave it an A certificate. The appellate body had ruled against many of the recommended cuts as they viewed those scenes as integral to the movie.
The members of the CBFC, including the Chairperson, are appointed by the Central Government. Now since the tribunal is done away with, there could be a greater influence of the government. This would be against Article 19(1)a of the constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The Indian judiciary is already burdened by the pending cases. On April 20, the Supreme Court issued trigger points for invoking Article 224A of the constitution. This is to clear out the backlogs of cases pending in various high courts. After the ordinance, if the filmmakers want to challenge the decisions of the CBFC they will have to approach the high courts. The courts will have to view the entire movie before making a judgement. This is highly time-consuming. The same goes for the other appellate bodies that have been dissolved with the coming of the amendment. The high courts will now have to deal with an influx of cases.
Approaching the courts for appeals may create a hole in the filmmakers’ pockets. Added, the appeals could get dragged on for years. This would impact movies made on issues of contemporary relevance. This could discourage filmmakers from making movies on issues that need to be addressed for fear of spending time in court to settle the issue.
In 2013, the Mudgal committee in its report submitted to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had the jurisdiction of the FCAT be widened. The committee also recommended increasing the benches or members in order to strengthen it. The committee had also recommended allowing appeals by any person, and not just the filmmakers, to review the decisions of the censor board. So while the committee recommended strengthening the tribunal by increasing its powers, the ordinance ends it.
The ordinance will create a burden for the Indian judicial system. It will lead to a backlog of cases and, thus, will delay the granting of justice to the citizens. The ordinance will also impact the creative freedom of filmmakers. For fear of running into trouble, filmmakers may try to stay away from making films on issues that may create a problem with the CBFC. Films are not just for entertainment they are also powerful mediums capable of creating a lasting impact on the people. The last thing it needs to be under the influence of the government.
 The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 (Act 2 of 2021) The Constitution of India, art. 14  Cinematograph Act, 1952 (Act 37 of 1952) ‘Disgusting and revolting and obscene’: ‘Bandit Queen’ and the censors, available at: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/VDNX1GQ7uY2b2v4HYcxRhK/Disgusting-and-revolting-and-obscene-Bandit-Queen-and-t.html (Last modified: July 13, 2018) About us, available at: https://www.cbfcindia.gov.in/main/about-us.html (Last visited: May 7, 2021) The Constitution of India, art. 19 'If Vacancies Are More Than 20% Sanctioned Strength': Supreme Court Lays Down 5 Trigger Points To Appoint Ad-Hoc Judges In High Courts, available at: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-guidelines-for-appointment-of-ad-hoc-judges-under-article-224a-of-constitution-172859 (Last visited: May 7, 2021)  Committee of Experts to Examine Issues of Certification Under the Cinematograph Act 1952 (September 2013)