Censorship in India: An overview

Censorship in India: An overview

The legal framework of censorship in India is handled by The Cinematograph Act, 1952, and Cinematograph Rules, 1983. These censorship laws govern the public exhibition of the films. However, there is no specific law or regulations governing the censorship of content available on online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and so on.

The issue of censorship is associated with freedom of speech and expression. Censor Board established under the Cinematograph Act is responsible to examine the films and to issue relevant certificate before the publication of the film.

What does mean by censorship?

The literal meaning of censorship is to give opinion or to assess. It may be applied to both written and oral communications. Its area cover the books, magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, movies, dramas, paintings, plays, speeches, dance, music, art, literature, photographs and website and so forth.

Historical aspect:

The concept of censorship is prevalent since past times. However, the practice of censorship was applied on the books, plays, songs, and paintings etc. in order follow the rules and regulations of that time whether it is related to dressing style, religious observance and any other kind of norm, which may have great impact on society at large. It was used a tool for enforcing the prevalent orthodoxy in the community or area. To exemplify, the most popular case of censorship in olden times is that of Socrates, sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC for his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities.

Further, French Revolution was the era when censorship was rampant so as to maintain a hold on the people. As most of the people at that time were uneducated and visual representations were a powerful means of floating ideas and sentiments among them. Even during the Napoleonic Era only a few newspapers and artists were allowed to work.

Indian Scenario:-

Initially, the Cinematograph Act, 1918 was created with a view to provide the magistrate the power to review the movies and pass a judgement on the certification. Thereafter, the same scenario had been replaced by board of censor in presidency towns of Bombay, Madras, Kolkata, Rangoon and Lahore. After independence the old legislation of 1918 has been replaced with existing Act of 1952.

Now, the censorship of films in India is governed by the Central Board of Film Certificate set up under the Cinematographic Act, 1952. This Act along with Cinematographic (Certification) Rules, 1983 and the guidelines dated 6th December, 1991 issued by Central Government set out the manner for certification of films.

In order put a cap over prohibited content in the movies the Central Board of Film Certification was established by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. It is notable here that all films whether Indian or foreign are required to obtain certificate issued by this Board before screening in India.

Structure of the Board:

The Board consists of non-official members and a Chairman who are appointed by the Central Government. Presently, Mr. Prasoon Joshi is the Chairman of the Board since August, 2017. The members of the Board enjoy their office for three years at the pleasure of the Central Government.

Usually, the Chairman of the Board holds its office for the tenure of three years but if a successor for the post could not be found promptly, will continue to hold the office till a successor is appointed.  Howbeit, if a successor could not be found, Central Government can appoint any other person as a Chairman for a period of not more than one year.

In addition, the retired members of the Board are eligible for re-appointment by the Central Government. Apart from this, the members of the advisory panel hold their office for period of two years at the discretion of the Central Government. The main headquarters of the Board is situated at Mumbai and nine regional offices are at Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvanthapuram, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati. Furthermore, these offices are being assisted by advisory panels appointed by the Central Government.

Objectives of the Board:

The Central Board of Film Certification has the following objectives:-

  • To make sure the broadcast of healthy entertainment, recreation and education to the general public.
  • To ensure the transparent and responsible process of certification.
  • To bring awareness among advisory panel members, media and film makers about the guidelines for certification and current trend in the industry by organizing workshops and meetings.
  • To adopt new techniques for certification process.
  • To make voluntary disclosures, publish annual report and prompt replies to queries under RTI in order to maintain transparency about Board’s activities.
  • To put endeavors for development of the board as a centre of excellence.

Categories of Films:

The films are certified in following categories by the board:-

“U” Certificate: – It means there is no restriction on the publication of the film.

“UA” Certificate: – It indicates that film can be published but it is prohibited for the children below the age 12 years.

“A” Certificate: – It shows that it is restricted to adults only.

“S” Certificate: It depicts that film is restricted to specified group of persons.

Application for examination of the film:

An application is required to be filed before the Board so as to examine the film for screening. An application must be written form addressed to the Board. Additionally, an application must be presented with prescribed fees. Besides this, certain number of copies of the synopsis of the film, credits titles of the film, complete texts of the songs and one copy of whole shooting script.

Despite this, there are certain forms which required to be filled along with an application. For instance, Form I or I-A if movie is produced in India and Form II or II-A in case movie produced outside the territory of India. After this, there must be a declaration submitted by the producer that no harm has been caused to any animal during the shooting of the film.

Where to move if Board refuses to issue certificate?

Earlier it was the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal established under Section 5 C of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which deals with the grievance of the film makers in case the Board denies granting certificate or granting only an “A” certificate, or granting only a “S” certificate, granting only a “U/A” certificate or and directing the applicant to carry out any modification.

But recently on 4th April, 2021 the Central Government has abolished the said tribunal by passing The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, which amends the Cinematograph Act by omitting some sections and replacing the word “Tribunal” with “High Court”. Now, the only remedy lies with the film makers is to move to High Court if they want to challenge the certificate issued by the Board.


Censorship is used as a tool by government to ensure a peaceful and relaxed time for movie people while watching move rather fuming over some issue in the movie. It would to correct to say that censorship is a necessary evil when it is absolutely required to safeguard the nation. But at the time if it is applied too severely, it would be a threat to democracy. The weapon of censorship should be used in worst cases and otherwise cinematic arts should be allowed to enjoy its freedom by giving entertainment to the public.

-Kiranpreet Kaur

Associate at Aggarwals & Associates, S.A.S. Nagar, Mohali