The Hindi filmmaker Vijay Anand resigned as the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Classification on 13 July 2002 after less than one year of a three-year term. His resignation followed his review of the Cinematograph Act 1952 in which he had toured India’s nine major filmmaking centres. This two-volume summary of recommendations was compiled by the CBFC Secretariat for a core committee of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, however its consideration was obstructed. The review volumes included relevant legal cases, submissions from regional certification boards, and the censorship guidelines of twelve other countries (Bhowmik 2002). Recommendations were made for the inclusion of young people and film representatives on censor boards, for the CBFC’s fiscal independence to follow a model like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and for political autonomy from the government in relation to CBFC appointments. The most controversial recommendation was for a new classification category, “XA”, to legalise the exhibition of certain films in specific adult-only theatres that would have been banned under the current system. This would have included, though not been limited to, softcore pornographic films, with the recommendation seeking to formalise the regulation of an industry sector that otherwise operated covertly and without certification. Anand’s resignation followed his being forbade by Sushma Swaraj, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, to discuss this recommendation, including internally at an upcoming committee meeting. He claimed he “wasn’t being allowed to do [his] job” and that the MIB order was “taking away [his] freedom of speech” (in Ganti 2009).
The managing editor of news source The Statesman, Ravindra Kumar, suggests that the government was actually less concerned about the recommendation to certify pornography than other recommendations, including:
“(1) To make certification of films screened on satellite TV channels compulsory; and
(2) To ensure that appointments to the Advisory Panels and the CBFC Board were made on professional considerations and not because of political links” (in Bhowmik 2002, 3574).
An MPAA style model would significantly reform the ability of the government of the day to intervene in the CBFC, which is part of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Further, the certification of films for satellite television would require national policies for companies often operating regional broadcasts. Following his resignation, Anand was replaced by former BJP MP Arvind Trivedi, who rejected the proposed CBFC reforms and, in particular, the relevance of an XA rating for India:
“I am completely against such a suggestion. It goes against our Bharatiya [Indian] tradition. What do we want to prove by having such theatres? That we are modern? What kind of culture are we trying to promote? Following Western countries shouldn’t be our aim.” (in Mazzarella 2013, 5) – Liam Grealy
– Bhowmik, S. (2002). Politics of film censorship: Limits of tolerance. Economics and Political Weekly, 37(35), 3574-3577.
– Ganti, T. (2009). The limits of decency and the decency of limits: Censorship and the Bombay film industry. In Censorship in South Asia: Cultural regulation from sedition to seduction (pp. 87-122). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
– Mazzarella, W. (2013). Censorium: Cinema and the open edge of mass publicity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.