The government's proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act is another blow to the film fraternity and will potentially endanger freedom of expression and democratic dissent, says a letter signed by industry insiders such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Mira Nair and Pa Ranjith.
The letter, with more than 3,000 signatories, will be sent to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Friday. The ministry has asked asked the general public to send their comments on the draft bill by July 2.
On June 18, the Centre had sought public comments on the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 which proposes to penalise film piracy with a jail term and fine, introduce age-based certification, and empower the Central government to order recertification of an already certified film following receipt of complaints.
The letter says the proposed amendments would render filmmakers "powerless at the hands of the state as more vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors". "As another blow to the film fraternity, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed new amendments to the Cinematograph Act under which the Central Government would have the power to revoke or recall certification of films which have already been cleared by the Censor Board," the letter reads.
"Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the Central Government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent," it adds.
The signatories to the letter include filmmakers, actors, cinematographers and writers from across the country such as Anurag Kashyap, Vetri Maaran, Farhan Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Hansal Mehta, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Rohini Hattangadi as well as prominent names from Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Assamese and Bengali cinema.
These include Rajeev Ravi, Venu, Lijo Jose Pellimery, Balaji Tharaneetharan, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Fowzia Fathima, Jayathirtha B V, Supriyo Sen, Suman Mukhopadyay and Bhaskar Hazarika.
Film collectives such as the Ektara Collective and Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), have also signed the letter.
Filmmaker Prateek Vats, one of those who drafted the statement, told PTI that the proposal to give the revisionary power to the union government would be a "bad step" and the letter was an attempt from the film industry to register their participation.
". you're decreasing the confidence in the institutional body which the CBFC is. It is important for the film fraternity to raise their concerns and put down their suggestions," Vats said.
In April this year, the government decided to do away with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body constituted to hear appeals of filmmakers aggrieved by cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification.
The tribunal was helpful for directors seeking a time-bound solution if they were not happy with the censor board's decision.
"The proposal to amend the Cinematograph Act comes two months after the Centre dissolved the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) in April 2021.
"Now, filmmakers unhappy with the decision of the Censor Board are left with no option but to appeal in the High Courts bearing legal cost of representation and financial loss due potential delays in film releases until the overburdened judicial system takes up the matter," the letter reads.
The letter also lists suggestions for the I&B ministry.
It says the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 must clearly define the role of the CBFC as a body which certifies film content for public exhibition and not as a censoring body.
"We recommend that the amendments giving powers to the Central government to revoke a film certificate must be dropped. We agree with the spirit of the Supreme Court decision which held that this would violate the separation of powers in our democracy," the letter states.
While film piracy poses real challenges to filmmakers, the proposed amendments do not address this concern effectively merely by introducing a penal provisions, the document states.
"Systemic solutions to genuinely counter piracy must be introduced," the letter suggested.
According to the letter, the filmmakers also recommend that the FCAT be reinstated, as it enables "affordable and accessible remedies to filmmakers."
On Monday, actor filmmaker Kamal Haasan said on Twitter that people should raise their voice for "freedom and liberty."
"Cinema, media and the literati cannot afford to be the three iconic monkeys of India. Seeing, hearing and speaking of impending evil is the only medication against attempts to injure and debilitate democracy. "Please act, voice your concern for freedom and liberty. @MIB_India #cinematographact2021 #raiseyourvoice," he wrote.