UIDAI’s motion follows recently proposed changes to the Cinematographers Act that would give the government powers that make filmmakers nervous.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is asking for cuts to a film called Aadhaar, which has already been certified for theatrical release by the Central Board of Film Certification, the Times of India reported. Even after clearance by the censors, the Jio Studios-produced film ran into trouble after UIDAI officials saw the trailer in February and requested a screening in the absence of director Suman Ghosh. The UIDAI does not have the legal authority to request these changes, and it is unclear what it will do if the film is released without the edits.

MediaNama approached Ghosh for comment and submitted an RTI to UIDAI for a copy of the changes requested.

Desired cuts: Ghosh told the Times of India that UIDAI officials were upset about some dialogue in the film, such as one in which a villager asks if the government is invading their bathrooms (related to aadhaar and privacy), a dialogue with the Statement “I am Aadhaarad”, based on the model of Amitabh Bachchan’s “I am azaad” [free]said Ghosh. But UIDAI officials did not provide anyone with a written list, he claimed. “Although they can’t legally prevent the film from being released, my producer is stepping on eggshells,” said Ghosh.

Why it matters: India already has a film censorship regime that is among the most conservative in democratic countries. The CBFC is calling for cuts on profanity, slander, relations with friendly states, and other such concerns. In the wake of the recent proposed changes to the Cinematographers Act (see below), pressure from other parts of the government on film censorship could gain more power, albeit not without precedent

No authority … yet

A film that has been certified by the censors cannot easily be revoked. The censorship authority itself cannot revoke the release of a film unless requested to do so by a court. However, this is nowhere near the first time another arm of the government has tried to fit into the film certification process. There have even been cases where the CBFC has arbitrarily requested “no objection certificates” from people depicted in a film.

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  • In July 2020, In a letter to the CBFC, the Ministry of Defense requested that all web series and films depicting the armed forces require a clearance certificate.
  • In August 2017, The makers of the documentary An Insignificant Man * could not receive a certificate for their film about the election campaign of the Prime Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, because the CBFC required an NOC from the Prime Minister’s office. Finally, the Court of Appeal for Film Certifications overturned this requirement and ordered the film to be certified.
  • In June 2017, the then chairman of the censorship authority, Pahlaj Nihalani noticed that The Accidental Prime Minister, a film based on the book of the same name about Manmohan Singh’s premier presidency, would require an NOC from Singh and Sonia Gandhi, President of India’s National Congress.

Draft amendments give the government the power to review certifications

The 2021 draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill would give the government the power to instruct the CBFC to re-examine a certified film. The proposal has worried filmmakers, many of whom have signed an open letter to the government asking them to withdraw the proposal, arguing that a similar provision has been rejected by the Supreme Court and cannot be reintroduced without the reasons to name that led to the ban. The draft also provides for new penalties for film piracy.

In April the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) abolishedwhich means that if the above bill is passed, filmmakers will suffer from uncertainty even after their film has been released and will only be able to go directly to the high courts for an appeal. While the abolition of the FCAT is final, the government has said the Lok Sabha that the proposed law is not final and is still in the consultation phase.

* Disclosure: I contributed to a crowdfunding campaign for the production of An Insignificant Man in 2014.

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