The Indian federal government has passed an order that scraps the Information and Broadcasting ministry’s Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), the first avenue of appeal if a filmmaker disagrees with a certification decision. Instead, filmmakers will have to go to court.
The FCAT was set up in 1952 under the Indian Cinematograph Act. It was headed by a government appointed chairperson, assisted by four members and a secretary, and heard “appeals filed under Section 5C of the Act under which any applicant for a Certificate in respect of a film who is aggrieved by an order of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), can file an Appeal directly.”
The new order, passed on April 4, Easter Sunday, signed by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind, amends the Cinematograph Act and substitutes the words “Appellate Tribunal” with “High Court.” That means that filmmakers’ first option will be to lawyer up and petition the High Court.
The Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, under which this decision was made, was introduced in the Indian parliament on Feb. 13, 2021 and established emergency powers.
The order passing the bill states that it could not be debated in parliament and, since parliament is not in session now, the President “is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action.” Therefore it shall “come into force at once.”
The decision comes as a blow to filmmakers as the FCAT was a useful appeals body for them. In 2017, the CBFC banned feminist film “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” describing it as being “lady oriented, their fantasy above life.” The FCAT overturned the ban.
However, in recent times, the FCAT has not been so accommodating. In November 2020, the CBFC ruled against the satellite exhibition of “Joker,” despite the film having had a successful theatrical run in India with an ‘A’ certificate. Turner International India appealed to the FCAT, but the body upheld the CBFC ruling and said that the film is unfit for satellite broadcast on the grounds that it glorifies violence and it would have a lasting effect on the impressionable minds of non-adults.
Indian filmmakers have not taken to the decision kindly with Hansal Mehta (“Aligarh”), Vishal Bhardwaj (“Omkara”) and Guneet Monga (“The Lunchbox”) expressing dismay on social media.
“Do the high courts have a lot of time to address film certification grievances?,” tweeted Mehta. “How many film producers will have the means to approach the courts? The FCAT discontinuation feels arbitrary and is definitely restrictive. Why this unfortunate timing? Why take this decision at all?”
Do the high courts have a lot of time to address film certification grievances? How many film producers will have the means to approach the courts? The FCAT discontinuation feels arbitrary and is definitely restrictive. Why this unfortunate timing? Why take this decision at all?
— Hansal Mehta (@mehtahansal) April 7, 2021
Meanwhile, streamers operating in India, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus Hotstar await the top-down imposition of censorship regulations.