‘Are You Ostriches?’: Bombay HC Rebukes Certification Board Over Censoring Children’s Film

On Friday, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) received sharp criticism from the Bombay High Court when a petition seeking the grant of the universal (U) certification for the film Chidiakhana was being heard.

In strongly-worded observations, a division bench of Justices S.C. Dharmadhikari and Gautam Patel said that it may have to redefine the role of the CBFC entirely as the latter thinks that it was the “only one with an iota of intelligence to decide for everyone”.

Justice Patel said, “You [CBFC] are a certification board and not a censor board. You will not decide what one wants to watch and see. Nobody has given CBFC the intellectual morality and authority to decide what one wants to watch and see.”

The said petition was filed by the Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) which is a nodal organisation of the Government of India that produces children’s films and TV programs in various Indian languages. It came after the CBFC, in January, asked them to remove a particular curse word and another scene from the movie. CFSI complied after which, in June, the HC asked the CBFC for a response.

Here the CBFC advocate said that board now felt that the film’s theme and presentation mandate a U/A certification. Among the problematic themes and narratives are the scenes of attempted suicide/murder, violence, bullying and a mother slapping her child, according to the original regional officer’s email.

As opposed to the universal certification, a U/A requires adult supervision of kids below the age of 12 to be able to watch a particular film – which, ironically, in this case – is a children’s film.

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The court wondered if, by their decision to remove certain scenes showing bullying or abuse, the CBFC is denying the reality of these issues. They noted that such films can, in fact, be used to educate children about issues like caste discrimination and child labour.

“Are you ostriches? Put your head in the sand and pretend something does not exist!” said Justice Patel, “How else does one show and explain these issues to a child? Is it not better to show such films to the child and explain that this is what happens and this is wrong.”

“You are forming an opinion that the whole population is imbecilic and infantile and you are the only one with an iota of intelligence to decide for everyone,” the court said referring to the 2016 controversy over Udta Punjab, which was a film based on drug abuse

The board had given 13 suggestions to film’s producers, which effectively meant a mammoth 94 cuts, along with an A certification for the film that focuses on Punjab’s drug problem. However, the case reached the Bombay high court, where Justice Dharmadhikari – who is on the bench in this case as well – rebuked the board and cleared the film with just one cut.

On Friday, Justice Dharmadhikari said that the CBFC had not learnt their lesson.

The film Chidiakhana tells the story of a boy from Bihar, who moves to Mumbai to pursue his dream of playing football.

The Bench directed the CBFC’s Regional Officer to file an affidavit elaborating and outlining the board’s policy while certifying children’s films.

The matter will now be heard on August 5.

Featured image credit: Adam Jones/Flickr