The government is seeking public input on the proposed Cinematograph Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which would allow for a larger age-related classification, enabling the Center to act on complaints and seek re-certification of a picture, and penalise piracy.
The revisions, for which the Centre is seeking feedback by July 2, suggest an age classification system similar to the one outlined in the new intermediary and digital media standards, which were announced on February 25. U, or universal, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, and U/A 16+, as well as an A grade for adult-only content, would be the categories. There are now just three types of film certification under the Cinematograph Act of 1952: unrestricted public exhibition (U), parental advice required for children under the age of 12 (U/A), and adult films.
If the proposed amendments are approved, the government will be able to restrict film content on the basis of India’s sovereignty and integrity, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or morality, or in cases of contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any crime. The administration has also stated that there are insufficient safeguards in place to combat film piracy. For piracy, the new regulations include a three-year prison sentence and a fine of at least $3 lakh. There is also a push to give film certificates in perpetuity, rather than the current system, which only allows for a 10-year certification.
According to Prasanth Sugathan of the Software Freedom Law Centre, allowing the government revisionary powers violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Union of India v KM Shankarappa. “This will result in a situation where a few persons protesting can virtually stall the exhibition of any film. This will be a case of heckler’s veto prevailing and, in a country, where there will always be sections who are easily offended by any work of art this will have dangerous repercussions for freedom of expression.”