Certifying a Bold New Future: The Draft Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 2024

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (“MIB“) amended and notified new provisions of the Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 2023 on August 4, 2023. To enable such provisions the MIB has introduced the draft Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 2024 (“Draft Certification Rules“) and invited comments on the same.

The Draft Certification Rules bring about comprehensive changes to the film certification process and aim to foster efficiency, transparency, and inclusivity. They depart significantly from the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 and intend to address long-standing issues of corruption and representation alleged within the Central Board of Film Certification (“CBFC“).

The Indian film industry is one of the largest in the world, producing hundreds of films each year. The CBFC is responsible for regulating films in India and ensuring that they comply with Indian laws and cultural values. While the CBFC cannot ban a movie, it can refuse certification or direct that certain edits, name changes, scene deletions be made to a film for it receive a certification from the CBFC.

In 2019, the Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati (later renamed to Padmavat), found itself in the midst of nationwide protests by Hindu groups and a Rajput caste organisation. The CBFC granted the film a certification subject to five modifications, including the title change and certain changes in the disclaimer. The role of the CBFC is to examine a film basis the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and the rules notified therein. The CBFC can thereafter sanction the film for public exhibition under ‘U’, ‘U/A’, ‘A’ and ‘S’ categories.

The Draft Certification Rules maintain the certification categories of U, A and S but have also added introduced additional age-based labels within the UA category to provide clearer guidance on parental supervision. Films will now be categorized as ‘UA 7+’, ‘UA 13+’, and ‘UA 16+’, allowing parents to make more informed decisions about the content their children consume.

The Draft Certification Rules permit any application to recertify or change the category of a film for exhibition on television or media other than the medium originally certified to also be made on the e-cinepramaan portal. However, while re-certifying a film, the CBFC may direct the applicant to carry out some excisions or modifications in the film.

Other notable changes include shifting the certification application process online through the e-cinepramaan portal. This move is expected to minimize human intervention, thereby reducing the potential for corruption, a concern that has brought into question and raised doubts regarding the CBFC’s reputation in the past. By ensuring applications for film certification are submitted and processed digitally, the MIB aims to enhance efficiency and promote a more transparent certification process.  Additionally, in a move that simplifies the certification process for filmmakers, certifications will now be valid perpetually, eliminating the need for re-certification every 10 years. This change is expected to significantly reduce bureaucratic hurdles and is a significant relief to filmmakers.

Female representation on the CBFC is another noteworthy change. The Draft Certification Rules provide for the Central Government to take such steps as it thinks fit to appoint women members in the CBFC so that there is due representation for women, where at least one-third of the members in the Board shall be women and preferably half shall be women.

Last month, the MIB issued draft Accessibility Standards in the Public Exhibition of Feature Films in Cinema Theatres for Persons with Hearing and Visual Impairment, which are due for notification in the coming weeks. These accessibility standards are applicable for those feature films that are certified by the CBFC for public exhibition in cinema halls/movie theatres for commercial purposes.

The Indian film industry has long grappled with issues of censorship and accessibility. As the MIB takes these bold steps towards modernizing film certification in India, the implications for the film industry and its audiences are numerous. Embracing digital processes, promoting gender equality, and ensuring accessibility for all, the Draft Certification Rules not only address past criticisms levelled against the certifying process but also envision a more inclusive and transparent future for Indian cinema, synergising its statutory processes with technological advancements. As stakeholders await the implementation of the Draft Certification Rules and the notification of accessibility guidelines, there is a palpable sense of optimism about the changes these reforms are poised to bring to the cinematic landscape in India.