The film ‘Adipurush’ was released in December 2022 and the subsequent controversy surrounding it raised pertinent questions about the role and efficacy of India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) also referred to as the ‘Censor Board’.
The petitioner in this case is Vishnu Gupta, President of Hindu Sena. He sought a permanent injunction against the release of Adipurush before a Civil Court in Delhi, alleging that the film’s depiction of Lord Ram and Hanuman in the trailer offended Hindu sentiments and could lead to law-and-order issues. The filmmakers including the producer Bhushan Kumar, Director Om Raut and dialogue writer Manoj Muntashir Shukla, argued that they had received certification from the CBFC, which guaranteed them the artistic freedom, a right to freedom of speech and expression as enumerated under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
Yet the release of the film was accompanied by substantial promotional endeavours, wherein tax exemptions were granted in various states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The film has encountered substantial censure with regards to its narrative structure, visual aesthetics, depiction of characters, and linguistic content, thereby prompting demands for its prohibition. This article delves into the intricacies of the Adipurush case and the broader issues it highlights concerning film certification in India.
Role of the CBFC
To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the Adipurush controversy, it is imperative to undertake an examination of the role and functions attributed to the CBFC pursuant to the provisions set forth in the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The CBFC was duly constituted under the provisions of the said Act of 1952, and is entrusted with the responsibility of certifying films and regulating their exhibition in India. CBFC, being a statutory body, exercised its powers and functions in accordance with the provisions of the Act, other relevant laws, rules, and regulations. Thus, it is the solemn duty of the CBFC to ensure that films are certified in accordance with the directives set forth by the Centre, thereby imposing limitations on the public display in conformity with the “reasonable restrictions” as stipulated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
In the process of rendering certification, CBFC presented the relevant party the opportunity to present their perspectives, while also permitting the lodging of appeals with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which is an autonomous entity. Notwithstanding, a substantial amendment which took place in the year 1981 limited the scope of authority of the FCAT, thereby bestowing upon the Central Government the power of revision pursuant to Section 6(1). This provision granted the government the authority to intercede in decisions made by the CBFC and FCAT, including the instances where such intervention is initiated by the government itself. These instances make you wonder whether it can lead to the government asserting undue influence over artistic freedom.
In view of the controversy surrounding the film Adipurush, it is pertinent to bring attention to the inadequacies of the CBFC and the launch of subsequent inquiries into its working structure. The Central government’s decision to not include the provision that gave it power to recommend to the CBFC to review a movie that had already received a certificate, in the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill of 2023, gave rise to voices which questioned the process of reviewing of a film by the government by invoking its “revisional powers” as prescribed under Section 6 of the Act of 1952.
In the matter of Union of India v. KM Shankarappa, it was duly pronounced by the Supreme Court that the government is precluded from retaining the powers. Moreover, the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021 has effectively abolished the FCAT and consequently, has transferred the appellate jurisdiction previously vested in the FCAT to the esteemed High Courts.
In the Adipurush case, the CBFC under the leadership of Prasoon Joshi, along with a total of 10 other members, as opposed to the mandated minimum of 12 members, duly granted certification to the film. The Allahabad High Court, expressed its displeasure towards the CBFC for the decision, thereby emphasizing the solemn duty and accountability of the esteemed members constituting its board.
The CBFC’s role is complex as it is appointed and virtually controlled by the government. Past instances of dismissals and resignations of board members due to political changes underscore the influence wielded by the government over the CBFC. The lack of freedom among the board members leads to inconsistent decision making.
Conclusion & Analysis
In the present case before Delhi HC, the division bench of Justice SK Kaul and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia, provided temporary relief to the film’s creators by halting all legal proceedings at the High Court level. Additionally, the bench issued a notice regarding a plea that questioned the order from the Allahabad High Court, which required the film’s director and dialogue writer to appear in person and submit their personal affidavits to explain their genuine intentions. Furthermore, the court also issued a notice regarding a separate transfer petition filed by the film’s producer, seeking to move the case from various High Courts to the Supreme Court.
The Adipurush controversy exposes significant issues within India’s film certification framework, particularly regarding the independence and functioning of the CBFC. The lack of a transparency in the process of certification poses a threat to artistic freedom and the quality of content produced in the country. The CBFC, envisioned as an expert body representing diverse social groups, appears to have failed in its duty to prevent the chaos that ensued after the release of this film. If the public consistently encounters discrepancies in films certified by the CBFC, it raises questions about the effectiveness of an agency funded by taxpayers. Moreover, political pressures and government interventions in film certification decisions further erode the CBFC’s credibility.
The existence of an independent expert body, as initially intended, becomes contentious when political considerations override artistic and cultural expression. The Adipurush case controversy underscores the need for a thorough re-evaluation of India’s film certification process, ensuring transparency, independence, and adherence to the principles of artistic freedom while safeguarding cultural and religious sensitivities.