Movie censorship

Benegal panel on film censorship takes a stand for creativity, but who will watch the watchmen?

Much depends on the reconstitution of the Central Board of Film Certification, currently headed by the scissors-happy Pahlaj Nihalani.

Should films be censored or certified? The committee headed by eminent filmmaker Shyam Benegal to provide guidelines to the Central Board of Film Certification has firmly voted against censorship and made a case for respecting the collective intelligence of the movie-going public.

The committee submitted its report to Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley on April 26. The members (Kamal Haasan, Rakeysh Mehra, Piyush Pandey, Goutam Ghose, Bhawana Somaaya, Nina Lath Gupta and Sanjay Murthy) agreed that the CBFC needs to categorise films according to age groups rather than mutilate scenes. “Artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed in the process of classification of films,” recommended the committee, and “ the process of certification by CBFC is responsive, at all times, to social change.”

There was no immediate word on rolling back the rampant muting of profanity, an initiative spearheaded by CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani. Will kissing not be reduced any more “by 50%”, as the producers of a recent James Bond film were asked to do? The devil is always in the details.

Film industries across the country will welcome the recommendation that viewers need to be treated like grown-ups, but how many producers will comply with the suggestion that “the applicant must specify the category of certification being sought and the target audience”? The notion of what is “harmful or unsuitable content” for children is subjective and debatable. Besides, filmmakers who wish to increase their market reach push for UA certificates even when their movies are clearly meant only the 18-plus population.

The Benegal committee has a solution: apart from the three main categories, there is a recommendation to sub-divide the UA category into UA12+ & UA15+. “The A category should also be sub-divided into A and AC (Adult with Caution) categories,” recommends the committee. If these categories are created, the onus of the implementation will ultimately rest with cinema chains.

The Mudgal committee report

The creation of new categories also features in the reported submitted by the committee headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal to the previous Congress-led coalition government in 2013. The Mudgal committee members included former CBFC chairpersons Sharmila Tagore and Leela Samson and poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar. None of their suggestions has thus far been implemented.

Both committees also warned against banning films on the specious grounds of unsuitability, except when they contravene the provisions of the Section 5B (1) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. According to this wide-ranging clause:

  “A film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of 1 [the sovereignty and integrity of India] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.”  

The more far-reaching recommendations of the Benegal committee concern the CBFC’s functioning. The Board, which includes the chairperson and members picked by the I&B Ministry, is exhorted to play “the role of a guiding mechanism for the CBFC, and not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of certification of films”. One member should represent each of the nine regional offices (the current constitution of the board tips the balance in favour of Delhi and Mumbai).

Nothing short of an overhaul will be necessary to implement a fresh process of appointing "examining officers", as the people who watch and rate films are known. Several examiners are political appointees who are affiliated to the ruling party. They are a part of the CBFC not because of their understanding of cinema but their contacts, and they are often the culprits behind the sanctimony and righteousness that govern certification.

Even the selection of the CBFC board is routinely politicised. The current crop includes BJP members Vani Tripathi Tikoo, Jeevitha Rajasekhar, George Baker SVe Shekher, Rashtriya Swayamsewan Sangh activist Ramesh Patange, and Narendra Modi cheerleaders Ashoke Pandit and Mihir Bhuta.

Observed the Mudgal committee report:

  “At certain locations, members of such advisory panel lack any form of cinematic understanding, they perceive their role to be that of a Censor Board to cut and chop scenes and in some cases being affiliated to some political, religious or social group, impose without restraint, such political, religious or personal opinions upon content permissible in a film.”   

The Benegal committee has offered a practical solution: it has recommended that the National Film Development Corporation, the Federation of Film Societies of India, the National Council for Protection of Child Rights and National Commission of Women, and the Film Federation of India each recommend 25% of the examiners. Women should have 50% representation on each advisory panel from each regional office. This suggestion, if implemented, will go some way towards improving the certification process and ensuring that at least half of the examiners have more to do with cinema than politics.

Age of Pahlaj

Another important recommendation is that the original uncensored version of a film be despoted with the National Film Archive of India rather than the censored version. This will enable future scholars and students of cinema to watch a movie that reflects the filmmaker’s vision rather than the prejudices of the examiners.

There is also hope for filmmakers on the issue of the obtaining clearance from the Animal Welfare Board of India and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The AWBI’s hyper-vigilance has held up or interfered with several films that feature animals and birds. The ministry’s insistence on running a scroll every time a character lights up over and above a general health advisory that runs in the opening credits is proof that the CBFC doesn’t trust the intelligence of the average viewer.

The Benegal committee has sought more time to offer recommendations on the certification of films that feature animals and birds and/or smoking. The final report will be handed over to the I&B Ministry on June 20. The ministry’s decision will affect filmmakers and fans as well as influence the current functioning of the CBFC.

Will the Age of Pahlaj finally be behind us?

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.