India’s Censor Board needs to go – Cinema doesn’t need middlemen

The arrest of Censor Board CEO Rakesh Kumar, coming as it does in these changing times, is rather prophetic. These are changing times because it is now that the Nehruvian Consensus, after being questioned for decades, is meeting its end. It was a Consensus that agreed that it was the state which was best placed to decide what people should eat, watch, and even believe. Rakesh Kumar is just another middleman who made his way in the world by being a part of this system.

Rakesh Kumar was arrested by the CBI for receiving bribes. A search of Kumar’s residence last week recovered Rs 10.50 lakh in cash, gold jewellery, and property documents, said a ToI report. Kumar stands accused of delaying issuing censor certificates to pressure producers into bribing him.

Middlemen have traditionally fed off the system by becoming barriers to creativity, innovation, and productivity. The Censor Board in particular, was created to be an authority to decide what kind of cinema was “proper” and what was not. The casualties of this one-sided, authoritarian, and often political way of enforcing morality upon people was usually original and experimental cinema. This gave power to the lie that the average Indian moviegoer can’t keep himself or herself from getting violent if exposed to sex and violence.

Also, it did not help that the Censor Board was obviously not concerned with propriety. The various “item songs” that populate modern Bollywood are anything but proper. Yet, they pass the Board’s tests with alarming regularity and even more surprisingly, no protests are heard of. More often than not, the Censor Board’s objections have been echoes of politics.

Oddly enough, few vocal critics of India’s culture of bans have questioned the existence of the Central Board of Film Certification. Any protests have been aimed at people who have demanded bans and people who have created controversial films. But the core issue has always been the presence of a mai-baap body with the power to allow or disallow creative works from seeing the light of day.

Rakesh Kumar’s arrest should serve as a reminder of this and should expedite the abolishing of the Censor Board. It is an idea that belongs in the distant past – one where a Soviet Russia inspired Jawaharlal Nehru decided Indians are too immature to watch cinema of their choice. It is time India brought in a system of self-rating where movies are rated with age-appropriate content in mind and people are given the freedom to decide for themselves what is “appropriate” for them and what is not.

(This piece was originally published on Nit Central on August 19, 2014.)

#censor-board, #censorship, #cinema, #freedom-of-expression, #indian-cinema