‘I wanted FCAT’s role enhanced’: Former CBFC chairperson Sharmila Tagore, FCAT member Poonam Dhillon on abolition of appeals body

The sudden abolition of Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) has been criticised by some of the most eminent filmmakers and producers in the Hindi film industry. To understand how the the government’s move will affect the film industries in India, we spoke to a few people from the industry who have had an experience of either of working closely with the tribunal, or being benefited by it in some way or the other.

Actor Sharmila Tagore, who was the CBFC chairperson from 2004 to 2011, shared with her opinion on the abolition of the body. “I don’t know what the rationale is, what was the reason for doing this. I don’t want to comment on it at all. But FCAT was a body that was presided over by a judge and they had very eminent members,” she told

She cited how the tribunal has helped filmmakers in the past. “If a film ran into a problem with the CBFC, or for some reason if they thought we were very unreasonable, they could go to this place and they could argue their case. In fact, I wanted them to enhance the role of FCAT because if you remember, there used to be a lot of public interest litigation, like for Jodha Akbar and many other films. One would make a complaint from one city, and then another city. I remember the producers of Jodha Akbar ran from pillar to post. I felt since there was a legal body already present, why can’t that body look into these PILs and then later, the courts are always there. The problem with the court is everything takes a little longer. Producers can’t risk it. For them, even a week’s loss is huge.”

Kushan Nandy, director of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz (2017) remembers how FCAT was instrumental when the CBFC had not cleared the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer. “Going to the high court is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is sad that FCAT has been abolished, where will the small filmmakers go for redressal now? Now there is no backup plan for people who would have a tough time with the CBFC. FCAT would hear us out and rationally give suggestions and solutions and would advice CBFC accordingly. Abolition of FCAT is like clipping our freedom of speech! While it is great that we can still go to the high court for justice, but how many can afford it? It is a sad day for cinema in true sense, because now filmmakers have lost a kind of support system,” he said.

Prakash Jha, who has had far more experience of approaching the FCAT for his films, says he doesn’t “see a huge difference because FCAT is also a quasi-fuidicial body”. “All of my films have gone through FCAT. So, going to high court or FCAT means the same thing. FCAT also has a judge. So, I am not very worried about FCAT being abolished. It all depends on who the FCAT judge is because even the members of FCAT had no authority. I know it very well. I would prefer to go to the HC than FCAT,” he said.

In fact, Jha maintains that it is censorship that we need to abolish. He said, “We need to abolish censorship. Only certification should exist, not cuts, unless there are issues concerning national integrity. Apart from that, censorship shouldn’t exist. People are wise enough to make a choice for themselves.”

He further denotes, “My simple example is since Prasoon Joshi has been the CBFC chief, there has hardly been any controversy around a film. Why has that happened? There’s fair reasoning. Now, in Anubhav’s film Article 15, caste and class were mentioned, but it wasn’t the case earlier. How did that happen? So, what are we talking about unnecessarily? The government is trying to reduce the management and you have the option of going to the court after FCAT. So, you go directly now. High courts always hear cases of films because the film are about to release and the courts know a producer’s money is at stake,” he concludes.

Poonam Dhillon, who was a part of the five-member FCAT along with retired Justice SK Mahajan, journalist Shekhar Iyer, advocate Bina Gupta and Shazia Ilmi, tells us that the decision to abolish the tribunal will affect filmmaker a lot.

She said, “There was a very pertinent role that FCAT was playing. The tribunal kept the censor board and the producers’ point of view in mind. Sometimes I feel it is important to keep updating with time, with the kind of content that is available today, we can’t stick to rules made in ’50s and ’60s. We have to understand that we have to be relevant today. FCAT understood the fact and was doing as much as possible for the producers while keeping the rules in mind.”

Dhillon also addressed the burden on courts as well as what producers have at stake now. “It is not going to be easy for the producers, because going to the court is a much longer process and an expensive one. They cannot function without their legal teams, as they won’t know how many hearings or delay there will be now. I do feel FCAT is definitely going to be something that the producers will miss having around. Films are time bound. Keeping all this in mind, I am sure the requirement of the producers will be that ‘give us a digital release’ rather than going through the lengthy process. I am sure the government will have some alternative in mind rather than putting more pressure on courts.”

While the abolition of FCAT has come as a surprise to many, Dhillon says she had heard about it and was already trying to talk to some producers about it. She said, “When I heard about it, I had trying to speak to a few film people about it, but I somehow couldn’t reach out. I felt they need to be aware of it and they need to represent their own point of view. I am sure the I&B Ministry would have been open to hearing their point of view. I believe before taking decision for any industry, all the stakeholders should be consulted.”


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