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'What's The Point Of This', Asks Shyam Benegal On Centre's Draft Cinematograph Bill 2021

Veteran director Shyam Benegal was not convinced with the Government of India’s proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act, which is being protested.

Cinematograph Act, Shyam Benegal

Image: ANI/Unsplash

Shyam Benegal was not convinced with the Government of India’s proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Act. The veteran filmmaker stated that concerns on curtailing of freedom of expression expressed by over 3000 signatories of a letter to the Centre were ‘natural.’ He stated that the government had no role to play in this since the Centre-led Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was already in place.

Benegal unhappy over proposed amendments to Cinematograph Act

The Centre had sought suggestions from the citizens on the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 on June 18. The act proposes to punish offenders committing piracy with jail or fine, division of underage certifications into sub-categories for protection of minors as well as revocation of a certificate issued if it receives complaints.  

More than 3000 celebrities of the film industry including Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Nandita Das, Dibakar Banerjee have written to the Centre, calling the draft amendments as a ‘blow to the film industry’, claiming that it would endanger freedom of expression and democratic dissent.

Benegal asked what was the point of the changes and if the purpose was to control the media.

"I don't understand why this has come up in the first place. I am actually at a loss, thinking what exactly is the point of this. Unless they want to hold on to and have chosen to function the way they want... to have control over the media. We are a democratic country, our media is supposed to be free," Benegal told PTI.

He stated that there should be no outside control, especially of the government.

"The government, in this case, has no role to play because they've already set up a system- the CBFC. So why is there a need for the government to come back into it? Naturally, the filmmakers would be worried that why is the government so concerned," he added.

He also said, "When there are well laid out principles, under which cinema, TV are already covered, now why do you have to come into it, particularly the government in power? People, opposition parties all will be concerned because it's a power you're not supposed to exercise. What's the point of having an amendment?"

Benegal had headed a panel in 2016 to review the operations of the CBFC that submitted a report to the I&B Ministry. The Nishant director had suggested that the body functions purely as a certification authority, without imposing modifications.

The 86-year-old stated that he had no idea if the panel had taken suggestions from it,  or what the actual status of it was. He also felt it could be cannibalised.

"When you are doing a report, it's contextual. But if you take it out of context and use it for your own... To find a solution to a problem, you take a little bit of this and that. It can be cannibalised," he said.

One one of the points about the Centre being able to revoke the certificate, Benegal stated that there was a provision in the current act that could recall a film if it was  "blatantly unconstitutional" or "threatens" national integrity. He, however, felt it would be troubling if it was considered as ‘anti-government.'

"Ultimately, the abiding institution of the country would be the Constitution. It guarantees many things, including freedom of expression. You can do a lot of things but even then there are certain provisions, it doesn't mean you can go and step on your neighbour's toes," Benegal said.

"We recommend that the amendments giving powers to the Central government to revoke a film certificate must be dropped," the letter read.

He also stated that the possibility of the stifling of dissent through the act would be alarming.  

"I can be critical of a lot of things, including the way the government is functioning, but if you're going to be intolerant to that, what's my recourse? Those are things that people would naturally be concerned about," he added.

(With PTI inputs)

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