The idea of Cinema in itself is a medium of self-expression of the Director and viewed by the Audience. The audience’s reaction, however, doesn’t necessarily need to comply with that of the maker, resulting in the film’s box-office success or failure. The maker exerts well-known tools of filmmaking such as “Suspension of disbelief” to grasp the audience’s attention, turning them into mere voyeurs as the incidents play on screen. A voyeur is basically a peeping Tom, a silent observer of sorts, unnoticed by the participants in the act. There have been exceptions as directors have broken the Fourth wall, i.e. addressing the audience directly, but the voyeuristic pleasure still retains the essence of Cinema to a large extent. The CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification of India), however, has been rigorous in curbing certain freedoms enjoyed by the filmmakers of late. Even this year, a number of films have been reportedly rejected from the International Film Festival of India for allegedly being of “anti-national” spirit. With such constraints over creative freedom and freedom of expression, filmmakers turned to new digital platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, etc. to create content and reach the audience with the product, untouched and uncut.
Censorship and cutting of scenes are not only curbing an artist’s freedom to express but also diminishes the quality of the product considerably. Recently, a public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Delhi High Court by NGO Justice for Rights that asks to regulate the content shown on online Video On Demand platforms. According to the PIL filed, shows on online platforms contains “vulgar, profane, sexually explicit, pornographic and morally unethical content” and has been alleged to show women on a bad light. The question here is not only moral but at its core lie questions that are both of aesthetical and social importance. Cinema is, in its own right, a mirror of the society, albeit its own business and financial values. Though films today has been reduced to a money-spinning machine by producers, online platforms are here to break the cycle. What would Cinema portray of a society which has already struck the chords of each of the word written down in the litigation filed? How have these questions not occurred while cheesy, titillating item songs adorn big Bollywood productions, or in that respect the hideous daily soaps that are supposed to be socially educative?
The way that free expression is getting curbed, it is of paramount importance that the Cinematograph Act of 1952 is revised. World Cinema has progressed hugely, and the ways things are going in India, we can hardly expect a Gaspar Noe rising from our country any soon. Even our own Q (Director of Gandu, Brahman Naman) has resorted to online platforms to showcase their works. It’s high time the state recognises its citizens as responsible individuals and leaves with choices. As in the case of online content, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting stated in 2016, that they don’t intervene in online content. So far so good, but with the recent PIL being filed at the Delhi High Court, and the court’s decision to hear the plea, chances are that web certification might be introduced in the long run, thus putting another nail in the coffin of Indian Cinema.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)