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This article is written by Souradh C. Valson from Government law College, Thiruvananthapuram, and it discusses the functions, working, and appointment of members to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).


Censorship is the process of restricting public expression of views, and ideologies because they may undermine the morality and integrity of society. It is the most important tool for the government to control the media. Censorship is necessary because society may not view the content in the same way as a director or a producer, and will influence each individual differently. By censoring the insensitive and controversial parts the Board ensures that films don’t encroach on the limits of morality or incite any group/groups of citizens.

Appointment of the members of CBFC

The Central Board of Film Certification or popularly known as the censor board regulates the public exhibition of films in India. All films should get the certification from CBFC to publicly exhibit. The Cinematograph Act, 1952, (hereinafter referred to as Act) is the law governing the appointment of members, composition, and functions of CBFC and, it is a part of India’s Ministry of information and Broadcasting. The CBFC has one chairperson and other members (not less than 12 but not exceeding 25) who are appointed by the Central Government as under Section 3 of the Act. 

How long does it take to certify a film?

The process of film certification is lengthy and may take the CBFC up to 68 days. Firstly, the CBFC scrutinizes every application, which may take a week. Secondly, the examining committee takes 15 days and the chairman takes 10 days to review the film. Finally, the applicant is informed about the necessary cuts, CBFC overlooks the process and grants the certificate which may take another 36 days.

Categories of film certification 

There are four categories of films based on their content. The classification is based on Section 5A and under the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983.

  1. U (Universal): Viewers of all age groups can view a U-certified film.
  2. U/A: Although these movies are universal, children under the age of 12 require adult supervision.
  3. A: Only meant for exhibition before adults.
  4. S: These are movies for special classes like doctors and farmers.

The board shall occasionally conduct seminars of film critics, writers, and people connected with the industry along with national surveys to determine the public reaction for making guidelines for certifying the films. 

Objectives of the film certification

  • Under Section 5B(1) of the Act, the CBFC should examine the movies according to the principles of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of states, relation with other nations, public order, morality, decency, contempt of court, defamation, and the likelihood of inciting the commission of any offense. 
  • Under Section 5B(2) of the Act, the CBFC should follow the guidelines issued by the central government while certifying a film. The objectives of the certifications are to ensure that the films-
    • Upholds the values and standards of society.
    • Do not unnecessarily restrict creative expression and artistic freedom.
    • Help in social change.
    • Provide clean and healthy entertainment.
    • Are aesthetically enjoyable and have a good cinematic standard.

How does the censor board of India operate

The CBFC follows a two-level organizational structure with headquarters in Mumbai and nine regional offices. Advisory Panels assist the regional offices in the examination of films.

Board of CBFC 

CBFC has a chairman and other members appointed by the Central Government. The Cinematograph Act does not mention the qualifications of the members or the chairman. The members shall hold office during the pleasure of the Central Government and the chairman shall have a tenure of 3 years and continues until the appointment of his successor. The present chairman is Prasoon Joshi.

CBFC has nine regional offices located in Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Cuttack, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Thiruvananthapuram. Each office is under the supervision of a regional officer. The location of the registered office of the producer is the place of production of the film. 

Advisory panels

Every regional office has an advisory panel constituted under Section 5. To represent the interests of society, the panel members consist of people from all walks of life. After consultation with the board, the Central Government appoints the member. However, the Act does not prescribe any qualifications and procedures. The members have a tenure of 2 years. The selection of members to the Examining Committee, Revising Committee, and Re-revising Committee is from the Advisory panels.

Members have the following functions:

  1. To attend seminars and workshops conducted by the Revising Committee (if nominated) and the meetings of the Examining Committee. 
  2. To visit the cinema halls to check whether the films follow the certification norms.

Certificates and guidelines of CBFC

The Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 lays down the procedure for certification of films in India. The examining committee and revising committee are the two panels of the CBFC that are responsible for certifying films. 

  1. Examining Committee (EC)

The regional officer refers the film to the examining committee on receiving an application for examination. The applicants must supply the final copy with the background music and sound effects on the film for examination. The examining committee previews the film and gives the necessary recommendation based on which the film is certified. 

The examining committee comprises of:

  1. If the film is a short film, the EC consists of one member from the advisory panel, and one examining officer, wherein either of them should be a woman.
  2. For a long film, the EC consists of four members from the advisory panel, and one examining officer, wherein at least two members should be a woman.

The Regional officer determines the date and place of the examination at the cost of the applicant. 

All the previews, records, and reports of the examination are confidential. The applicant and his representatives cannot take part in the previewing process. Also, disclosing the names of the members of the examining committee is not permitted to maintain confidentiality. 

In addition to Section 5B(1) of Cinematograph (Certification) Rules,1983 provides other guidelines to the examining committee. They may restrict the following:

  1.  Movies that glorify antisocial behavior, such as violence.
  2.  Scenes that depict the modus operandi of criminals.
  3. Unnecessary depiction of child violence, abuse of the mentally and physically handicapped, and animal cruelty.
  4. Unnecessary scenes which aim to provide entertainment, such as horror and violent scenes but may have the effect of dehumanizing people.
  5. Scenes that glorify drinking, drugs, and tobacco.
  6. Scenes that offend because of vulgarity, obscenity, or depravity.
  7. Scenes showing sexual perversion and sexual violence against women, but if such a depiction is part of the theme, only a minimal depiction without showing the details is permissible.
  8. All words and visuals which insult any religious, racial, or other groups, and which incites communal or anti-national attitudes.
  9. Words and visuals that challenge the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  10. Scenes that threaten the security of the country and relations with other countries.
  11. The use of national emblems and symbols not according to the provisions of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper use Act), 1950.

After examination, the examining committee may allow the applicant to exhibit the film with restrictions or unrestricted exhibition or directs the applicant to make the necessary changes or refuses the exhibition. Finally, the EC sends the report to the CBFC chief.

2. Revising Committee

If the recommendations of the EC are not satisfactory to the applicant, he may request the chairman to send them to the Revising Committee(RC). The RC starts work only if the EC refuses certification. It consists of the chairman and, in his/her absence, a board member and nine members of the advisory panel/board who were not members of the EC, which examined the film. The quorum for the Revising Committee is four members, wherein at least two should be a woman.

The RC shall start to examine the film from the beginning. The procedures and guidelines of the Examining Committee are similar. The decision of the majority members is the decision of the Revising Committee. The presiding officer has the casting vote if there is a tie of votes. If the chairman disagrees, then the board shall reexamine or shall send it to another Revising Committee. The decision of the Revising Committee or the board, as the case may be, is final.

If the applicant is still not satisfied, he can send his work to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT).

3. Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT)

The recommendations of the Supreme Court in KA Abbas v Union of India led to the establishment of the FCAT through the Cinematograph (Amendment) Act of 1981.

Section 5D of the 1952 Act provides for the establishment of FCAT for hearing appeals against the decisions of CBFC. The tribunal is in New Delhi, headed by a retired judge of the High Court and four other members appointed by the central government. The tenure is for three years. 

The FCAT can entertain appeals from the revising committee within 30 days of passing such an order. The aggrieved can challenge the following orders:

  1. Refusing to grant a certificate
  2. Giving an A certificate only
  3. Giving an S certificate only
  4. Giving a UA certificate only
  5. Directions for modifications

If any party is aggrieved by the decision of the FCAT, a writ is maintainable in court.

Enforcement of CBFC

The violation of the provisions of the Cinematographer Act, 1952, may attract imprisonment as well as penalties. The following are major violations:

  1. Exhibiting an A-rated movie to a minor.
  2. Exhibiting an S-rated movie to a person, not meant to see it.
  3. Exhibiting an uncertified movie. It is known as interpolations and includes the following:
    1. Reinserting the deleted scenes after certification.
    2. Insertion of clips and scenes not given to the board for certification.
    3. Exhibition of non-certified movies.
    4. Using forged certificates to exhibit an uncertified film.
    5. Exhibition without a certificate from CBFC.

Penalties for violation

  1. Violation of certificates and other related offenses are non-bailable and cognizable.
  2. If the person who supplies the movie fails to give any information about the certification, title, length, cuts, and conditions of the certificate is liable for a penalty.
  3. If a person commits any violation during the exhibition, that person is liable for punishment for up to three years and a fine of up to 1 lakh. In case of a continuing offense, the offender is liable to pay a fine of 20,000 every day.
  4. The Act prescribes punishment for exhibiting a film in violation of the manner prescribed for exhibition.
  5. The trial court has the power to direct the violating film to be forfeited by the government under Section 7A of the Act.
  6.  Any police officer has the right to enter a place where a film violation the provisions are exhibited and seize their copies and prints.

Role of viewers in checking violation

The police have the power to check any violation of the Act but they are overburdened with other duties. The socially committed individuals have the right to bring matters of violation to the police. The police can then register an FIR under Section 7.

Shyam Benegal Committee Report on CBFC (2016)

The latest committee to change the existing censorship is the Shyam Benegal Committee Report on CBFC. Its main objective is to take note of the best practices worldwide, issue guidelines relating to the board, and appoint staff to create a transparent system.

Recommendations by the committee:

Restrictions on the power of CBFC

The committee recommended taking away the power of the CBFC to make alterations. Owners had complete rights over the film.

New ratings for certification

The committee recommended further classification of UA and A. Two additional categories such as UA+12 for young teenagers not exposed to the adult world and UA+15 for adolescents moderately exposed to the adult world. A new A-C category for films suitable for adult viewers but with caution for nudity and violence was also recommended.

Functions of the board

The committee recommended the CBFC restrict its powers to:

  1. Submitting a study of the general trends of films to the Central Government.
  2. Laying down guidelines for keeping its books and accounts.
  3. Periodic renewal of the existing guidelines.
  4. The holding of seminars and meetings by film critics, writers, and other associated people.

Staffing of the board

The committee recommended computerized software for applying and selecting members for the examining committee to reduce corruption and nepotism.

Why is the Censor Board controversial?

The CBFC or the censor has been in many controversies for varying reasons. Primarily the censor board is so controversial because it decides to cut down many scenes and clips unnecessarily. Let us take a look at a few controversies relating to the censor board. In 2002, a documentary film by Anand Patwardhan called War and Peace was edited 21 times before its release.

Gulabi Aaina, a film on Indian Transexuals was banned. The director appealed twice unsuccessfully. Censoring of films such as Udta Punjab, and Lipstick Under My Burkha the actions of the censor board were criticized for unnecessarily cutting scenes. The action of the board was heavily criticized by the actors such as Shah Rukh Khan in the movie Jab Harry met Sejal. Several film actors’ welfare bodies have written notices to the CBFC asking them to explain the rationale behind unnecessary censors.

The ambiguity and possible misinterpretation of laws have made the implementing authorities and executive more prone to media scrutiny in relation to censorship. The argument raised by the directors and other artists against the censorship is because of its alleged encroachment on the creativity and perspectives of the artists and thereby reducing or atleast impairing the desired quality. Recently, the Central Government dissolved FCAT, now only High Courts only have the authority to hear a party aggrieved by the order of the CBFC.

Way forward

As in any democratic setup, it is of utmost importance to protect and uphold the freedom of expression, although the right of expression shouldn’t go unchecked, it is always subject to reasonable restrictions according to the need of the hour. Legislative and administrative bodies must find a common ground or at least aim for a right mix of the freedom of expression and the morality of the people.


In recent times, many new themes are discussed in cinemas but the rigid guidelines of the censor board make it difficult to make films on socially relevant issues. The guidelines for the censor board should be periodically checked. It is high time to change the film censorship process in India.



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