Is Censorship a Necessary Evil?

With more than 1000 films being released every year, in India censorship of films has not only been a debate in the legal fraternity but also a topic of discussion at the family dinner table. The recent delay and cuts in the movie “Padmavati” is just one of the many examples of censorship in India. The current trend of CBFC of cutting scenes and banning of movies has raised various questions in people’s mind which need clarification.

What is the need for Censorship of a film?

In 1970, a Supreme Court judge in K. A. Abbas v. The Union of India & Anr, recognized the universal treatment of motion pictures different from that of other forms of art and expression. He further insisted that it has a deep impact on adolescent children more than that on mature women and men. The need of censorship thus arises from the prolonged effect that a motion picture has on an individual that doesn’t occur in a painting, book or play.

Who can censor a movie?

A motion film is certified by Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the regulatory authority in India, under Section 5A and B of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

In addition, powers are given to the Central Government to suspend a granted certificate for such period as it thinks fit or it may revoke such certificate if it is satisfies the conditions under Section 5E of the aforementioned Act.

There are 4 types of censor certificates to be given:

  1. U certificate: Sanctioned for unrestricted public exhibition
  2. U/A certificate: Sanctioned for unrestricted public exhibition except any child below the age of twelve years may be allowed to see such a film after the consideration of child’s parents or guardian
  3. A certificate: Sanctioned the film for public exhibition restricted to adults
  4. S certificate: Sanctioned the film for public exhibition restricted to members of any profession or any class of persons, having regard to the nature, content and theme of the film, e.g.: doctors, farmers etc.

What are the grounds for Censorship?

Section 5(B) (1) lays the grounds for not certifying a film for public exhibition if, in the opinion of CBFC, the film or any part of it is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence. This is in accordance with the reasonable exceptions specified in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

To help CBFC facilitate the certification process, guidelines have been issued by Central Government time and again. A few out of the 20 guidelines that must be ensured by the CBFC are:

  1. Anti-social activities such as violence are not glorified or justified
  2. The modus operandi of criminals, other visuals or words likely to incite the commission of any offence are not depicted;
  3. Human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity;
  4. Scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented;
  5. Visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented.

Moreover, the Censor Board has also released a list of banned words which includes Hindi English curse words, abusive language and the mention of Mumbai not Bombay as per Government’s Official Notification dated 04/08/1996.

Appeal Procedure:

If the applicant is aggrieved by the order of the CBFC he may appeal to the Appellate Tribunal which is chaired by a retired High Court judge or any person so qualified to be a High Court Judge. Further, Revision powers are given to the Central Government to call for the record of any proceeding in relation to any film which is pending before, or has been decided by the Board and may make a decision as it deems fit, after giving the applicant an opportunity for representing his views in the matter.

Role of Judiciary

The Judiciary has frequently demarcated between the expression and abuse of freedom of speech. It has always tried to maintain a balance between rights of artists and the need of censorship wherever required. In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Court opined, censorship by prior restraint is not only desirable but also necessary in case of motion pictures as it has a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect their emotions. In this case the ban on this movie was lifted. Similar cases in which Supreme Court passed an order in the favour of artists are Raj Kapoor v. Laxman, and Patwardhanv. Cent. Bd. of Film Certification, Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Prof. Manubhai D. Shah and the most recent was the lift of ban on Padmavati.


As the title suggests, censorship is a necessary evil, but that doesn’t negate the freedom of speech and expression completely. The chief problem is that it seems that Censor Board doesn’t look into alternative options before banning a film and fails to take into account a lot of mitigating factors involved in the making of the film. While public interest needs to be protected, private interest of the parties involved cannot absolutely be forgotten. Right from the script to music, to production and advertising, a lot of effort and money has gone into films which when banned enormously impacts the economic status of people involved, which in turn comes under the ambit of their fundamental right of livelihood. This repeated pattern of Board or Government banning or halting the release of movies, thereby consequently an appeal being filed to High Courts and Supreme Court where the ban is lifted is getting quite tedious. Since the scope of grounds are quite wide it calls for some stringent measures to be taken by authorities, to clarify the objectivity with which a film must be granted a certificate. The struggle between the necessity of censorship and freedom of speech must be met with a right balance.

Author: Ms. Avadhi Jain, intern at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys. Can be reached at

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