Scrapping Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT): A Shock For Filmmakers
Author: Vaibhav Goyal
Designation: Student, University Institute Of Legal Studies, Panjab University
“Such a sad day for Indian cinema”
—Tweeted by filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, quoting an article in Film Information, with which the Indian Fim Industry industry woke up late on April 06, 2021, to yet another blow that it had been quietly dealt with by the government.
Abolishment of the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) by the Government of India under the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 passed on April 4, 2021, which substituted the words "Appellate Tribunal" with "High Court" in the Cinematograph Act — came as a shock for filmmakers. The FCAT was the place where filmmakers walked had a right to challenge edits suggested to their films by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The FCAT was established in 1983 after the CBFC gave screenwriter and writer KA Abbas' movie Char Shahar Ek Kahani 'A' certification. Abbas took his appeal to the Supreme Court, and however he lost the case, the FCAT was formed. The FCAT was set up under the Indian Cinematograph Act, 1952. It was headed by a retired High Court Judge, assisted by four members and a secretary, and heard "appeals filed under Section 5C of the Act under which any individual for a Certificate in regard of a movie who is not satisfied by the order of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), can file an Appeal."
Film restriction in India became effective to analyze if a film was 'appropriate for public display' with the Cinematograph Act of 1918. Since then, the industry’s disagreement with the inconsistency and the arbitrariness of the CBFC's (Central Board of Film Certification) decisions has increased and made the relationship between two fragile and fraught. The rules for allowing motion pictures to be a screen for the public are given under the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983. These rules are changed occasionally. At first, just two classes existed 'U' for unrestricted public exhibition and 'A' for exhibition restricted to an adult audience, that is, those over 18 years old. In June 1983, two additional classifications were added-'UA' known as parental guidance for children under 12 years old and 'S' for exhibition restricted to specialized audiences such as doctors and scientists.
The decision of the government to scrapping the FCAT comes as a hit to movie filmmakers as the FCAT was a valuable appeals body for them. In 2017, the CBFC prohibited the womanism film "Lipstick Under My Burkha," portraying it as being "woman focussed, their dream above life." The FCAT reversed the ban and allowed it for public screening.
Many Filmmakers claim that the decision has been taken by the government in an autocratic way without any discussions from the professions of the film industry. Most in the industry were shocked by the information on the nullification of FCAT. Nonetheless, the issue with FCAT's abrogation is special in that it plunges an industry as of now at conflict with an organization that acts as the ‘Censor Board’ into a deeper crisis; it will mostly influence the small filmmakers.
"We never saw it coming," said producer Hansal Mehta. Yet, the truth of the matter is that it had been coming to a while a member of the government’s larger “streamlining” drive. "For what reason was it abolished without any discussions with the filmmakers? It's not in light of a legitimate concern for the makers," says previous CBFC Chairperson, actor Sharmila Tagore. "FCAT was of excellent need. It was being headed by a retired Judge. If makers felt that the CBFC decision is unreasonable then an option was available with them to approach FCAT. It resembled a scaffold; less expensive than going to court, heard both the parties and went to a mutual settlement," says Tagore. "A different arrangement of eyes, individuals of a specific stature would see your film [again]… It was the body to go to on hitting barricades with the CBFC. Most likely the decision would come through in your favor, you would go home and theatres would be your oysters," says senior film pundit and previous CBFC member Shubhra Gupta.
Nonetheless, producer Prakash Jha says that he isn't so upset by the turn of events. Calling FCAT "infructuous", he says that filmmakers, at any rate, have been hurrying to the High Courts with their movies. For him, admittance to the High Courts and the Supreme Court is of prime significance. "There must be a lawful response open for the filmmakers," he feels. "Indeed, even [ex CBFC head] Pahlaj Nihalani needed to go to FCAT to get his Rangeela Raja (2018) cleared from the cuts that CBFC had recommended. Envision then how FCAT was a guardian of movie filmmakers when they needed to save their movies from Pahlaj Nihalani himself when he was CBFC boss," says producer Vasan Bala.
"FCAT was shaped to give quick track redressal to filmmakers who needed to advance against CBFC decisions. With its abolition, filmmakers would need to now move toward the HC, which implies, as a rule, the forthcoming of extensive responsibility of HCs. Likewise, it will take time from HCs in managing significant hearings," says producer Utpal Borpujari. "You could go for redressal to FCAT without going through a ton of cash, could contend and expect a decision. How many producers can afford to move court?" asks producer Hansal Mehta, adding that movies like Udta Punjab could go to High Court against the decision of CBFC as a result of their sponsorship via huge production houses like Reliance, Balaji Telefilms, and Phantom. "90% of makers would prefer not to go to courts and spending cash and delivery dates will be an issue. At the point when delivery dates are fixed and theaters booked then makers simply don't have any desire to wait," says producer Anurag Kashyap.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry under Arun Jaitley set up a committee under Shyam Benegal to patch up the CBFC in January 2016, which recommended– that the CBFC should only be certifying films for age-appropriate viewing – which was similar to ones made by the 2013 committee chaired by Justice Mukul Mudgal.
Namrata Joshi, Govt abolishes Film Certification Appellate Tribunal without consultation, National Herald, April 07, 2021
Pradeep Kumar, Abolition of Film Certification Appellate Tribunal leaves film industry puzzled, anxious, The Hindu, April 10, 2021
Naman Ramachandran, Indian Government Quietly Scraps Censorship Appeals Body, Variety, April 07, 2021
Karishma Upadhyay, FCAT abolition will make releasing films even more tedious: Filmmakers react to scrapping of censorship appeals body, Firstpost, April 08, 2021
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, Scrapping of FCAT: Film industry gets another blow amid Covid-19 pandemic, Business Standard, April 10, 2021
Simran Sethi, The big debate: Should FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) be abolished?, The Free Press Journal, April 15, 2021
Nalini Sharma, Scrapping of the IP tribunal: The good, the bad and the ugly, India Today, April 12, 2021