Censorship is when an authority (such as the government) cuts out or stops the release of information. The official stance of the Indian Government is that it does not censor films, it only certifies them.

    Censorship of Films/Movies

    For films/movies to be shown to the general public, they must be certified by the Indian Government. Many films are only certified if certain conditions are met and certain changes are made. This is more or less government censorship, since the government is blocking or hiding content from the content's intended audience.

    The law says that the Censor Board can refuse to certify a film if any part of the film goes against the sovereignty of India, or affects its relations with other countries. The Board can also take action if it thinks the film is indecent, against morality, or if it is likely to cause public unrest or defame anyone. This is similar to the language in the Constitution, which lists situations in which the fundamental right of free speech can be regulated.

    In addition, however, the Central Government has also been given the power to issue 'guidelines' to help the Censor Board decide how to proceed.

    For example, some guidelines include:

    • Films should provide a 'clean and healthy environment.'
    • Anti-social activities, or drinking/drug use can't be glorified.
    • There should not be needless violence.
    • Films shouldn't cater to the 'baser instinct,' or be 'vulgar.'
    • Films should not degrade women and sexual violence against women should be shown 'to the minimum.'
    • Anti-national or communal attitudes can't be promoted.

    Censor Board Actions

    If you want to show a film/movie to the general public in a theatre, you have to apply to the Certification Board (commonly known as the Censor Board) for a certificate. The process for filing the application is detailed in Rule 21 of the Cinematograph Rules. The Board examines the film, and it also has to hear from you. Then, it can do any one of the following:

    • Release the film with one of 4 certificates:
      • U (unrestricted), meaning anyone can see the film
      • U/A (unrestricted but with adult supervision), meaning anyone can see the film but parents should use caution in allowing children under 12 to see it
      • A (adults only), meaning only adults may see the film
      • S, a rare certificate that means only certain professionals, such as doctors or scientists, can see the film
    • Tell the filmmaker to make changes to the film before it can be certified by the Board using one of the four certificates above.
    • Refuse to certify the film at all (meaning the film may not be released)

    Public showing of a film without a certificate

    Showing a film to the public without having a certificate is punishable in the following ways.

    For showing an uncertified film, the punishment is a minimum prison of 3 months and maximum of three years, and also a fine between ₹20,000 and ₹1,00,000. If the person continues to show the film after getting a notice, they can be fined up to ₹20,000 per day. A judge can reduce this punishment if they have good reasons. By the order of the Court under Section 7 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the film may also need to be forfeited to the Government.

    For showing an adult or special film to children or people it is not certified for, the punishment is a minimum of 3 years prison, as well as a fine of up to ₹1,00,000. If the person continues to show the film after getting a notice, they can be fined up to ₹20,000 per day. The film may also need to be forfeited to the Government.

    For making changes to the film after it's been certified, the punishment is a minimum of 3 years prison, as well as a fine of up to ₹1,00,000. If the person continues to break the law after getting a notice, they can be fined up to ₹20,000 per day. The film may also need to be forfeited to the Government.

    Censorship on TV

    A different set of laws deal with content on TV. The Government has the power to censor channels or even entire cable operators (say Star TV as a whole). Any content can be blocked by the Government if it feels that the content is encouraging hatred between groups, or can cause public unrest.

    Content can also be blocked if it violates the Programme Code and Advertising Code put out by the Government that all cable channels must follow. They have a broadly worded set of conditions, such as:

    • Content should not 'offend good taste or decency'
    • Content should not encourage superstition
    • Content should not be derogatory to women

    Censorship of the Internet

    The law outlines two main ways in which content on the internet can be blocked:

    1. The Government can block any content that it considers either a threat to national security or that it believes can disrupt public order. It can also censor content that it thinks will encourage people to commit a crime. There are also rules that describe the procedure that has to be followed for this censorship to take place.
    2. Internet service providers and social media platforms like Facebook or Quora have a responsibility to remove any "illegal content" if they get an order from a Court. "Illegal content" is defined in a broad manner and includes anything that is 'grossly harmful', 'harassing,' or 'blasphemous.'

    There is also currently some confusion over whether an uncensored version of a film can be shown online, for example on Youtube, Hotstar, or Netflix. While the Cinematograph Act doesn't apply directly to online content, the Censor Board has said that they will demand that all applicants (filmmakers) cannot release censored portions of their films anywhere, the internet included.

    Questions and Answers
    Click on a question to view the answer

    The law says you have to appeal within 30 days to a tribunal known as the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). This tribunal can revise the decision of the Censor Board. However, the Central Government also has a lot of power to change the decisions made by the Board or the Tribunal. It can look into any film that is being considered by the Board, and can also look into any decision that has been made by the Board or the Tribunal. The Government can then make any orders to cancel or suspend a certificate, or to change a film's certification (for example, from ‘U/A’ to ‘A’). They can also change the release of the film. Whatever the Government's decision, the Board will have to follow its order.

    The Government has to hear your side of the story first, and any order only remains valid for two months. The Government can also make this procedure private if it deems it ‘against public interest’ to make it public.