NFAI reveals censor board records from 1920s to 1950’s

Mumbai: Cine enthusiasts interested in understanding how film censorship worked in its early phase now have access to a treasure trove of rare and historical data provided by the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The NFAI Wednesday shared that it had digitalised and uploaded documents related to film certification, published as Bombay and Bengal Government Gazettes from the year 1920 to 1950.

The records consist of detailed information like name of the film that has come up for certification; length; number of reels; country of origin; who applied for the censor; the producer of the film, the day the committee viewed the film and the day when the film received certification.

“This will help film researchers about understanding how Indian films were certified, the process of certification was done in early days. We have a large paper collection at the archives consisting of posters, still photographs, postcards, song booklets, old journals and magazines in different languages. We have started digitalising it and most of it is almost done.

“We were looking at what we can make public. We have put up this data concerning the early era of cinema regarding censor clearance. For research purpose, there are many researchers who come to access the database. So, we thought of using technology,” NFAI director Prakash Magdum told PTI.

Magdum said most of the films that came seeking certification were foreign. India’s first full-length feature, silent film, “Raja Harishchandra” released in 1913. It was directed by Dadasaheb Phalke, who came to be known as the Father of Indian Cinema.

Ardeshir Irani-directed “Alam Ara” was the first Indian talkie, which released in 1931. “In early days of Indian cinema, the production of Indian films was less in number that time there were foreign films, mainly from America and Europe, which were exhibited in India in large numbers and they needed to take certificate to show the film in India,” Magdum said.

“The Volga Boatman” (1926), an American silent film produced and directed by legendary filmmaker Cecil B De Mille, was refused certification in India by Bombay Board of Film Censors apparently because it portrayed class hatred, violence, degrading lust and brutality.

The censorship and classification of the films then rested with censor boards, which were placed under police chiefs in cities of Chennai (then Madras), Mumbai (then Bombay), Kolkata (then Calcutta), Lahore (now in Pakistan) and Rangoon (now Yangon in Burma).

With Independence, the autonomy of the regional censors was abolished and they were brought under the Bombay Board of Film Censors. After the implementation of Cinematograph Act, 1927, the board was unified and reconstituted, as the Central Board of Film Censors in 1952. Cinematograph (Certification) Rules were revised in 1983 and the body was rechristened as the Central Board of Film Certification.

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