This article was written by Vineet Kumar, a student of National Law University Odisha.

Bollywood industry requires no introduction today. It is recognized as one of the biggest film industries of the world, consisting of some of the finest actors of their times, such as Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan, Hema Malini and so on. One might start creating a list and it will never end. Films have become more than a medium of entertainment today. The people involved in film making have successfully conveyed their messages on various social issues, and have beautifully depicted life of some prominent personalities. According to Forbes[1], the industry, providing employment to hundreds of people, valued at $2.28 billion or 138 billion rupees in the year 2014. It is also one of the fastest growing sectors of the Indian economy, contributing around $6.2 billion[2] to Indian economy in the year 2008-09 and 0.5% of India’s total GDP in the year 2013 and provided jobs to 1.8 million people in the country.[3] Such an enormous industry, with this kind of potential, obviously requires certain rules and regulations to be strictly followed in order to ensure that the people involved in it do not get exploited, their rights are not violated and the final product which is delivered to the audience is not harmful in an manner. Thus, a film or a motion picture as it is often called has to pass through certain stages to get certified by the authorities that it is fit to be put forward in front of the audiences. This process of reviewing a film is known as film certification. In other words, what we see on our screens or in the cinema halls reaches us after passing various tests.

Governing laws: Presently, the Cinematograph Act, 1952 governs the process of film certification in India. It lays down provisions for constitution and functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification (called the Central Board of Film Censors before 1983).[4] It also lays down the guidelines for film certification. The Board, consists of non-official members and a Chairman (all of whom are appointed by Central Government) and functions with headquarters at Mumbai. It has nine Regional offices, one each at Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Cuttack and Guwahati. The Regional Offices are assisted in the examination of films by Advisory Panels. The members of the panels are nominated by Central Government by drawing people from different walks of life for a period of 2 years.[5]  Currently, there are four categories under which the motion pictures are classified[6]:

  • U- Unrestricted Public Exhibition
  • UA- Unrestricted Public Exhibition – but with a word of caution that Parental discretion required for children below 12 years
  • A- Restricted to Adults
  • S- Restricted to any Special Class of Persons

The present certification of films is ruled by the 1952 Act, the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules promulgated in 1983 and the rules issued there beneath from time to time, the latest having been issued on December 6, 1991. The Guidelines are laid down by the virtue of section 5B of the Act, which says that “a film shall not be certified for public exhibition, if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it’s against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of Bharat, the security of the States, friendly relations with foreign State, public order, decency or morality or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence”.[7] The vision of the Censor Board (as CBFC is also called) is to ensure that healthy entertainment is provided to the general public of the country. The certification process is generally kept very transparent. Any film be it foreign or Indian, must get certified by the CBFC before being screened in India.[8]

The Cinematograph Act states that for a film to be certified, it must not be against the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India (wholly or partially), the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency and should not involve defamation or contempt of court, nor should be likely to incite commission of any offence.  The Central government, invoking sec. 5B(2) of the Act, has laid down certain guidelines.

The principles for guidance in certifying films: A film is judged completely on its overall impact on the society and viewers and is examined in the light of the time period depicted in the film and the contemporary standards of the country and the people to whom the film relates, provided that the film does not deprave the morality of the audience.[9] The Board has to ensure that the artistic expression and creative freedom is not unduly curbed and the film is of aesthetic vale & cinematically of good standard as far as possible.  No anti-social or violent activities should be glorified in the film. The movie must not show any content which is harmful for children as the films have a great impact over them both psychologically and socially. The Board has to ensure that no cruelty or abuse to animals is depicted in the film needlessly. At the same time, it must be ensures that basic human sensibilities are not offended by the way of vulgarity, obscenity or depravity in any scene in the film.[10] Also, The Board shall scrutinize the titles of the films carefully and ensure that they are not provocative, vulgar, offensive or violative of any of rules.  Further, if any matter of State security is involved, The Official Secrets Act 1923 is used for the protection of official information, mainly related to national security.[11] This is because a number of films depict delicate issues which might cause tension between various religious groups. Issues such as terrorism, honor killing, same sex relationships are often used by political powers for their selfish motives and to cause religious violence. In such situations, it is the common man who suffers the most and public property is destroyed at a large scale. And the perfect reason given by people who are directly involved in the action is that such films hurt their religious sentiments.

 The ban story: Movies such as My Name Is Khan (2010), Bombay (1995), Fire (1998), Black Friday (2007), Water (2007), PK(2014), Madras Café (2013) are some of the movies which faced opposition from various religious groups in one form or other because of the fact that they dared to touch certain delicate issues prevalent in the society. Demand for ban and riots are the most used tools for opposing a film. The judiciary also takes a protective view when pronouncing their views in the matters where such a conflict is involved. Most of the times, it asks the movie makers to remove a particular scene or scenes which, in its view, are influencing such conflicts.

In 2008, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), headed by Raj Thackrey, started a movment to push the North Indians (largely from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) out of Maharashtra. The retaliation adopted a dangerous face and resulted in a number of casualties. The State Government of Maharashtra had been almost a mute spectator to this regionalism until it spilled over and invited strong notice from the Central Home Ministry.[12] When Kamal Khan tried to capture the plight of those migrants in his film ‘Deshdrohi’, otherwise callous State Government immediately banned the movie for two months acting on the report of the police that if the film is released in the same format it may lead to ‘law and order’ problem in the State.[13] The court said that state’s ban was on ‘extraneous grounds’ but still the movie was not allowed to be released. The Apex Court also cleared the movie. The court refused to agree with the contention of the Maharashtra Government, that if the film was screened it would lead to a law and order problem.[14]

It is not long back, when in 2006, incidents of vociferous protests of many Christian communities against screening of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ dominated the press and media for quite some time. The storyline of the film invited ire of various religious, political and radical groups who viewed it as ‘blasphemous’ and ‘offensive’.[15] The Hollywood creation, based on the bestselling 2003 novel by author Dan Brown was gradually banned by seven State Governments[16] 15 in their respective territories after being cleared by the Censor Board. The reason given by almost all the Governments was that the movie might hurt the ‘religious sentiments’ of the people of the minority community and hence, disturb the ‘peace and tranquility in the State’. When this was the scenario in India, curiously, apart from few hiccups and protests, the movie was released with a bang in most of the Christian countries in the West on May 18, 2006.[17] Following special screenings for various Catholic leaders and the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, the Censor Board finally gave the film an ‘A’ certification and cleared it. But the Board forced the distributor, Sony Pictures to insert a 15-second legal disclaimer card[18] both at the beginning and at the end stating that the movie was purely a tale of fiction.[19]

The above are some instances where films faced barriers in different forms, and were not given certification. If we start preparing a list on similar instances, surely it will not be a short one.

To conclude we can say that though there are laws regarding film certification in India, different political and religious groups attempt to interpret these laws for their personal motives. There is an immediate need to start accepting that films are something which should be left untouched by evil forces of the society. They are meant to entertain the audiences so that they feel free of their chaotic lives for some time.

[1] Bollywood: India’s Film Industry By The Numbers, (Accessed at: 

[2] Economic contribution of Indian Film and Television Industry, Motion Pictures Distributors Association, (Accessed at:

[3]( Accessed at:

[4] Sec. 2(b), The Cinematograph Act, 1952

[5] (Accessed at:

[6] Ibid

[7] Sec. 5, The Cinematograph Act, 1952

[8] Film censorship: how does it work?, Preetha Kadhir, The Hindu (04.02.13)

[9] (Accessed at:

[10] Ibid

[11] The Official Secrets Act, 1923, (Accessed at:

[12] Right to Free Speech in a Censored Democracy, Subhradipta Sarkar (Accessed at:

[13] Fears of MNS backlash prompted ‘Deshdrohi’ ban,, Nov. 13, 2008 (Accessed at:

[14] SC rejects Maharashtra plea, clears Deshdrohi, THE INDIAN EXPRESS, Jan. 24, 2009

[15] Da Vinci film protests stepped up, BBC NEWS, May 16, 2006, (Accessed at:

[16] The seven states are: Goa, Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab

[17] See Punjab ban for Da Vinci Code film, BBC NEWS, May 25, 2006, (Accessed at:

[18] The card reads: “The characters and incidents portrayed and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.”

[19]Indian censors win Da Vinci fight, Monica Chadha, BBC NEWS, May 24, 2006, (Accessed at:

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