Censorship in Films and the Media

Asim Mudgal & Kivi Lydia Vito
Asim Mudgal & Kivi Lydia Vito

By Kivi Lydia Vito and Asim Mudgal

In this article, we will examine the history of media and film censorship in India, including how and when it initially began.

Censorship in Media

To understand or even start to recognise censorship, one must first understand what the phrase implies in plain and simple terms; It means the suppression or restriction of any content found in news, books, movies, or other media that is deemed offensive or politically objectionable.

We have all been censorship victims, if that's the appropriate term. The most recent examples I can think of are the censorship problems in Myanmar and the internet blackout in Shillong that was imposed to filter any dissemination of news.

It's frightening to think that in this digital age, media, the press, and  news are being censored. Although many of us are unaware of this, it happens in real time, and frequently, whether the choice is subjective to protect the country or someone "Censorship" is real.

Despite the fact that India's constitution preserves people's freedom to express their opinions without fear of punishment or censorship, the country has implemented some content restrictions. Censorship is the control and suppression of oral and written communication in India as well, and the first documented instance of censorship in Indian media dates back to the time of British rule, when the East India Company established its overseas territories in India and repressed the newly emerging press. This was done to keep the British colonial power from being undermined by the press.

The Censorship of Press Act, which Lord Wellesley originally passed in 1799, mandated that every newspaper print the printer's, editor's, and owner's names. Any item should be submitted to the secretary of censorship before printing and distribution.

This persisted, and in 1823, a new Act was passed. The Licensing Regulation Act was enacted by John Adam in order to prevent Indian newspapers from printing any press without a licence. This was primarily directed against works written by the Indian press published in their native language, but the Metcalfe Act of 1835 repealed this restriction.

With the Vernacular Act, which required all press to have a government licence and was primarily targeted at the press that utilised their own local language, censorship efforts were made once more in 1878 to monitor and restrict the Indian press.

All of these attempts at censorship had political objectives, and the advent of the Second World War saw censorship in the press, such as the India Press Act of 1931 (Emergency Powers), which was enacted to quell rising civil disobedience and gave the government the authority to suppress propaganda writing in support of the CD movement. Later, journalistic activity was restricted and news from around the world was regulated under the guidelines for India's defence.

After India gained independence from colonial rule, censorship persisted during the 1975 Emergency when the Gandhi Government set forth specific guidelines for journalists throughout the nation and required media to obtain permission before printing material and major newspaper offices' energy supply was first turned off by the government. According to IE, journalists from The Times of London, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times were expelled and nearly 7,000 journalists and media professionals were reportedly imprisoned in May 1976, according to the Home Ministry. For the first time since Independence, press censorship was enforced on the Indian press.

The Indian Constitution clearly implies that everyone has the right to freedom of speech and expression, which means that everyone has the ability to voice their own thoughts. which includes not only contains text but also other audio-visual and other media.

OWN and FREELY are the key terms.

Even after independence, there is still a clear distinction between what constitutes free expression in India, despite the fact that freedom of speech is one of the fundamental principles of creating a democratic society as a whole.

Due to the digital era, Internet censorship has increased recently in several Indian states by both the central and state governments. Recent media reports have found that states like Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh, among others, censor the internet or any kind of communication.

So, how will you filter a discussion on what is good and wrong?

For a moment, let's go back in time and reflect that Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, which sparked further controversy, and religious organisations' objections led to the 1988 ban of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verse. Censorship is on the rise in the wake of commercialization and Internet publication, and users are being barred from social networking sites too.

This raises the question of whether it is acceptable or harmful to censor and limit freedom of expression through the shutdown of the Internet.
Even while we understand why being neutral is the wisest course of action, how will restricting someone's ability to voice their opinion work?

My two cents:

Given how dynamic society is, everyone should be tolerant enough to allow competing and opposing viewpoints. Censorship has both advantages and disadvantages. At its essence, free speech and expression must be safeguarded, but only reasonable limits should be imposed. The best way to strike a balance between the need for restraint and the right to free speech. 

Censorship in Films

CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) ) under section 03 of the cinematography act, 1952, states that the CBFC is a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which requires the Government of India to approval for films for public viewing. Further, All the chairman and board members are appointed by the central government. 

Types of Censorship Certificates Includes U(Universal), U/A (Under Parental Guidance), A ( Adult), and S (Specific Groups Only).

Central Board Of Film Certification (Earlier Central Board Of Film Censor), as a new name introduced on 1st June 1983, mentioned the turning point in Indian cinema regarding the certification of film and public viewing o film in different domains. In the case of S. Ranga Raan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [(1989) 2 SCC 574], a film "Ore Oru Gramathile" condemning the exploitation of people based on their caste should be given a U certificate or not. In the follow-up hearing, the Supreme court mentioned that If the film is not promoting unlawful means of occupying governmental bodies, it's entitled to a U certificate. If we are talking about censorship, we are also here to discuss Public Demonstration. The webflow of strikes that happened during "Bajirao Mastani" and "Padmavati" later changing the name to "Padmavat" sparked the controversy of Hinduism and religious debates. Nevertheless, controversy either creates or breaks the ways. In this case, the controversy helped the movie. 

In 2016, Lipstick Under My Burkha was denied release by CBFC in India, stating, "There are contagious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society." Nevertheless, the film was released later with an A certificate concluding with 16 cuts. The film that won several awards for its concept and realism internationally made a stagnant entry into India. In 1995 Adhura's first gay movie starring Irfaan Khan as a struggling gay journalist gets banned. The film never got released in India. And the question Why was Irrfan Khan’s gay film Adhura banned? ultimately sparked the 2022 Twitter debate. Lately, the 1999 first Pride happened, and today we talk about gender equality, LGBTQIA. Based on the Emergency period in India, Madhur Bhandarkar's Indu Sarkar ran into rough weather with the CBFC having demanded 14 cuts. Similarly, the Movie based on drug racket, violence, and exploitation Udta Punjab faced a censorship stream. Article 19(1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. However, it is also limited by Article 19(2), which allows the government to impose “reasonable restrictions” on this right “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or concerning contempt." 

Recently, Movies debated the projection of women characters, from sensualizing them to presenting them as mere love interests. Many actresses, from Questioning the roles and identities to taking up significant roles, have raised the bar high. During lockdown OTT platform made a sensation and audience growth. From shows like Tandav to Paatlok to Sacred Games brought a controversial run. From the non-censorship policy, OTT ranges Young Adult audiences and gives a diversity of content. OTT runs across the Young audience, while Television revolves around the family audience. Television made an experimental entry from Balika Vadhu to Pehredaar Piya Ki. Later one grabbed controversy by depicting an 18-year girl marrying a 9-year-old boy to protect him. Soon the petition was signed show became a topic of debate on Twitter, leading to the shutdown. Assamese television show Begum Jaan got banned for two months after allegations that it promoted the so-called "love jihad" and belittled Hindu and Assam cultures. Furthermore, Indian Television regulates under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Moreover, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has authority over sources depicting false claims and ideas. In every view of the topic, the question arises, Is Censorship Of Art Verifiable or Not? Maybe It is, or It is not if we talk about topics regarding children What To Show and Not? Films and Television shows must be sensitive and sensitize young minds on several issues. Briefly, films do progress on the concept while Television shows struggle with Uncategorized Dramas. When it comes to the depiction of Women, Television showed growth from the depiction of the Saas-bahu fight to the relationship of understanding and concerns. However, there's a scope for improvement for gendered programs. It was 2011 when the TV show Maryada Lekin Kab Tak...? gave a plot for the portrayal of Homosexual characters in glitz and pieces, but none of the shows ever came with a full-fledged screen depicting LGBTQIA+ struggles. If we talk about Shakti based on transgender communities, it did become the talk of concern for a while but landed in typical television drama raising gazes debates or casting transgender for trans roles. Draupadi's character and moral is a lot more controversial and debatable in Films and Television. If we talk about old Mahabharata, people think of Draupadi as a home-breaker and are often given references in homes till today. I have listened to debates in my house and in society over Draupadi's Characterization. Indeed, in 2014 Mahabharata raised Questions and the liking for Draupadi among Youths. The talks will likely go on long from quoting, “Men Doing Televisions are feminine.”

Yes, this too holds a question that a male child watching television shows often teased about being a Woman.