Cinema and Censorship: The Politics of Control in India

Cinema and Censorship: The Politics of Control in India

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Book Specification

Item Code: IHG065
Author: Someswar Bhowmik
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788125036654
Pages: 393
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch

Book Description

Back of the Book

This narrative historiography traces the evolution of censorship discourses in post colonial India delineates the theoretical bases of censorship claims and contentions and uncovers its many socio- political dimensions and complexities.

The exercise of film censorship in modern India Bhowmik argues must be de linked from its colonial origins as such as practice violates the sociality of the constitutionally granted freedom of speech and expression in the post independence system.

Penetrating the haze of bureaucratic manipulation judicial laxity vested interests and political or public pressure surrounding the film censorship debate the author disagrees with the popular notion of censorship as moral disagrees with the popular notion of censorship as moral restraint. Rather he reveals that its true import lies in the propagation of political agendas. The overarching chronological schema that he devises outlines the intricate interplay of policies of governance and strictures of censorship.

As in his other books Indian cinema Colonial contours (1995) and Behind the Glitz Exploring an Enigma called Indian film industry (2008) Bhowmik grounds topicality of Cinema and culture. A riveting read this book goes into the very heart of the problematiques of Indian cinematic censorship.

About the Author

Someswar Bhowmik is currently research Scientist with the Educational Multimedia research Centre, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. He has researched and written extensively on the sociological aspects of cinema and television in both English and Bengali. He is also a Documentary film maker and has been awarded for his productions.


The present treatise is the result of my enquiry between March 2002 and February 2005 into film censorship in independent India at an important juncture of its history. In the year 2001 India’s central Board of Film Certification completed 50 years of its chequered existence having been established in 1951 as the central Board of Film Censorship. Then the year 2002 marked the 50 anniversary of Indian Cinematograph Act 1952, however historically speaking film censorship in India has been in existence since 1920 having originated form the Cinematograph Act 1918 the colonial predecessor of the 1952 Act. Although I undertook a full fledged but separate enquiry on film censorship in India’s colonial period in course of my PhD dissertation a few years ago I have consciously refrained from integrating its details into the present treatise. I have here briefly touched upon its essential features only in order for them to put the eventual discourse about the post independence scenario in proper perspective. To me details of the pre independence phenomenon belong to an independent discourse, one that should be approached separately.

In India’s colonial period under British administration film censorship evolved as an instrument for restraint on a particular domain of artistic creation ostensibly on moral ground but there aims at examining why that restraint continued even after independence how it has metamorphosed and with what characteristics. Specifically this study looks into the rationale implications and efficacy of film censorship as an institution after independence.

Of late many a controversy has raged over the issue of film censorship in this country. Most of the time the central Board for film Certification or its earlier incarnation the Central Board of film Censorship (CBFC both) has been criticized either for its lenience or intransigence. Most conspicuous and confusing has been the popular and political expression of support for or discontent against some form of bureaucratic and administrative action. Sometimes there has been independent and vehement manifestation of popular/ political perception. Less conspicuous but effective nevertheless has been constitutional/ judicial review of the issue of film arrangement and or mechanism for film censorship.

But all this centers around the core issue involved here how far is film censorship in India compatible and the norms of democratic principles by which the Indian society and polity is guided. Indians under colonial rule did not enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression. Hence no question of constitutional propriety was involved in matters of film censorship prior to 1947. And the colonial government nipped any prospect of juridical and legal complication in the bud by keeping film censorship outside the realm of judicial review. The situation post 1950 after a tentative period of transition between August 1947 and January 1950 however became problematic in view of the constitutionally ensured right to free speech and expression. The problem has been brought to the fore by individual aggrieved by action/ decision of the CBFC or the Government and adjudicated in course of law based on merits of the legal points involved in specific instances. But it is as yet far from being solved. Even court judgments have not had always the desired impact on our polity or society. The question of film censorship now needs to be urgently brought into the public domain by human rights activists not just for the benefit of Indian film lovers but also the prevalent film censorship can be more simplistic or further from the truth. The points moments of disjunction are far too numerous and important to be ignored.

As a matter of fact people’s perception about film censorship is characterized by a general ignorance about and apathy towards the concepts principles and issue involved. Freedom of expression has hardly ever been the subject of discussion outside academic judicial and administrative circles. So popular utterances and actions around this subject no matter whether these are favorable or not have been very crude and impulsive marked by an appalling lack of basic awareness. It is moreover prejudiced by the immediacy of the country’s socio-political climate the nature of media dissemination the action of interest groups and also the direction of individual angularities or idiosyncrasies. In an already complex social situation mush heat is inaccessibly generated in this process. The social climate too gets vitiated often leading to interpersonal malice and misgiving and sometimes to political manipulations as well.

The present discourse is primarily an attempt to reconstruct the history of film censorship after independence. Hopefully this study will act as a source of information for anyone seeking an objects evolution of the question that may arise over the issue of film censorship. I have here followed an essentially linear pattern and chronological with the milestones of almost six decades of our post colonial history. My principle focus is on exploring the link between the overall state policy and the film censorship policy both maneuvered by the bureaucracy. But significantly while the politicians have always taken the initiative as well as the upper hand is devising the state policy in post independence India they have left the business of framing film censorship policy almost entirely to the bureaucracy apart from deciding in favor of its continuation. In fact this bureaucratic hegemony has even molded and manipulated its political and judicial ramifications. It is area that has not sufficiently been examined so far leaving a huge void in the historiography of film censorship. There was an urgent need to fill it.

People will perhaps find it strange not to come across the issue of censorship of or restraint on, television programmes. A apparent similarity between these tow types of audio visual products notwithstanding, the economic political sociological and cultural parameters of their respective methods of communication/dissemination and engagement/reception are too different to merit and justify simultaneous attention. The respective analytical tools those to be deployed are also different to a great extent. So I have refrained form fiddling with both.

This study is more in the nature of a narrative historiography than anything else and follows the various phases of an emerging socio political discourse within our post colonial society. In this Endeavour my role has been confined to following leads dispassionately and seeking reliable information. I have not used a single one that cannot be attributed to definite sources. So gaps originating form institutional or official obsession with confidentiality have been unfilled and authorial interventions generally avoided. Debates on this issue have suffered so much from both a lack of information as well as misinformation/misinterpretation that I have tried my level best not to complicate the scene further by unfounded assumptions.

In the same breath let me also humbly submit that the inferences and observations made in this study are open to further exploration and scrutiny. In fact just as controversy will continue to rage over this issue for a long time to come academics and analysts will also have numerous occasions to visit re-examine and rethink it. There is no use pretending about or claiming either finality or closure regarding such a sensitive issue. We can only talk about the “how” and possibly “why” of what has happened so far. But the reader would do well to keep it in mind that the process of historiography brooks no culmination. History like science is always a work in progress. It can be continuously updated on the basis of new information unearthed and also revised based on newer hypotheses and methodologies reflecting progress in episteme and progressive sophistication of critical tools.


Preface ix
1 Mapping the Field 1
2 Politics of Film Censorship 18
3 A Medium under Siege 33
4 The Past delivers the Present 66
5 The First Movements 1950-1964 109
6 The Second Movements !964-1976 159
7 The Third Movements 1977-1991 211
8 The Fourth Movements 1991-2006 265
9 A Medium in Chains? 325
References 347
Index 359

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