19 April 2010

Politics of Nepal's Censor Board

here is my article on Film Censor baord, published in Republica last Friday

The Film Censor Board was assailed by Nepali media in February and March 2010. There are two reasons for this. One, the Censor Board demanded cuts in two Nepali films, “Dasgajja” and “Dasdhunga”. It rated another cinema, “Palpalma”, as suitable for above 16. Some critics also asked for doing away with the Board. Earlier, movies like “Aago” and “Ahankar” also faced hassles from the Board. Censor boards: International scenarioCensor boards are universal entities in film industries. They certify cinema after viewing them. The process varies in countries. Some call it censor board, others certification board. Whatever, it is a mechanism of suppressing expression. In the US and UK, film industries have established this mechanism to dodge state interference. In India and Nepal, the state has established it. The boards work as moral police to safeguard the interests of the states.In Britain, the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) was formed in 1912. In 1984, it changed into the British Board of Film Certification. It now certifies movies in seven categories: Universal (all ages, with nothing unsuitable for children), Parental Guidance (general viewing, but certain scenes deemed unsuitable for children under 8), 12A (maybe unsuitable for under 12, need adult company for those under 12), 12 (suitable only for 12 years and over), 15 (and above), 18 (adults), and Restricted 18 (for adults only, shown at licensed cinemas or sold at sex shops).In the US, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and National Association of the Motion Pictures Industry established 13 points, listing scenes and topics the industry needed to avoid. In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) started a rating system, credited to the then president Jack Valenti.At present, there are five categories: G or General Audiences (all ages admitted), PG, or Parental Guidance Suggested (some material may not be suitable for children under 10), PG-13 or Parents Strongly Cautioned (some material may be inappropriate for children under 13), R, or Restricted (under 17 requiring accompanying parent or adult guardian, 21 or older), and NC-17, or No One 17 and Under Admitted (these films contain excessive graphic violence, intense or explicit sex, depraved and abhorrent behavior, explicit drug abuse, strong language, explicit nudity, or any other elements which, at present, most parents would consider too strong, and therefore, off-limits for viewing by their children and teens).In India, its censor board came with the Indian Cinematograph Act 1918. After independence, the government formed a Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) on January 15, 1951. Now it is called the Central Board of Film Certification. And it certifies cinemas in four categories: U (unrestricted public exhibition), U/A (unrestricted public exhibition with parental guidance for children below 12), S (exhibition to restricted audience such as doctors etc), and A (public exhibition allowed to adults above 18 years).Nepal’s Censor BoardThe Censor Board appeared in Nepal in the post-1950 period. But cinema had entered Nepal in the Rana period. Some examples prove that the Ranas used to irregularly screen cinema for the public. In 1949, the Rana government established a cinema, Kathmandu Cinema Hall, for regular screening of films in Kathmandu. There was no need for a censor board then because the screenings were under their supervision. Cinema technology was expensive, so it was beyond the people’s reach.This scenario changed in the post-1950 Nepal. In three years, many new movie theaters – Prabha Hall, Moonlight Hall, Shree Hall, Chalchitra Hall, Bishwajyoti, Jai Nepal etc – came into existence. Demands for licenses for cinema halls might have urged the government to opt for a film censor board. So, one was formed in 1951. Accordingly, people had to submit films before screening them publicly or privately. The government charged Rs. 100 and confiscated films and projectors in case of violation. The rule contained eight points related to communal feelings, vulgarity, superstition etc. This board was under the home ministry and had the power not to certify films if it deemed so.It was the state that made the first feature film, “Aama”, in Nepal around 1964. It was in the Panchayat period. Before this the censor board dealt only with foreign import. The scenario changed with “Maitighar”, made around 1966, the first feature from the private sector. Some 17 years later, the next film produced in Nepal by the private sector was “Juni.”His Majesty’s Government of Nepal enforced the Motion Picture (Production, Exhibition and Distribution) Act 1969, which made provisions for the Film Censor Board. This act had four criteria for certifying or rejecting movies: “a) To permit the said motion picture to exhibit publicly without prescribing any conditions; b) To permit to exhibit publicly, subject to any alteration, modification or abiding by any other conditions and restrictions; c) To permit, prescribing the condition that the said motion picture shall be exhibited publicly for adults above the age of sixteen years; or d) Refuse to give permission to the motion picture for public exhibition.”The Board could modify scenes of a cinema if it found that the film undermined “His Majesty the King or the royal family”, jeopardized “the security, peace and law and order of the Kingdom of Nepal”, harmed “the harmonious relations subsisting with foreign states, or peoples of various castes or tribes”, and which might “cause negative impact on public interests, or behavior or morality”, or defamed “any person or contempt of court or incitement to any offence.”The Act even authorized the government to stop “a motion picture already permitted by the Film Censor Board for exhibition” if the government found it objectionable. Till 1971, the Board was under the Home Panchayat Ministry. The National Communication Services Plan 1971 proposed one representative each from the Home Panchayat Ministry and Royal Nepal Film Corporation to the Board. The Plan also instructed the Board to air royal proclamations before and in the middle of film screening in cinema hall, as well as to screen religious films regularly. The Plan also brought the Board under the Royal Nepal Film Corporation.The Film (Production, Exhibition and Distribution) Rules, 2001, which formulated the act, had made provision for a seven-member board. They were the Joint Secretary and Under Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication, representative of the Home Ministry, representative of the Culture, Tourism and Aviation Ministry, three citizens from the film sector, including one woman. It authorized two types of censor board in Nepal: central and local. The former was to be in Kathmandu, and local boards in every district.The government amended this regulation on January 11, 2010. But the amendment was criticized for increasing the regime’s power of prior censorship. This amendment added a member from the Film Development Board to the Censor Board. It also made provisions for four categories of films for exhibiting – U, suitable for all; PG, needing parental guidance; S for special professions; and A for audience above 16 years of age. Before this, there were only two categories: U and A. So the present cinema certification in Nepal is similar to India.Politics of the Censor Board in NepalNowhere are censor boards out of criticism. Let’s take the MPAA. Many independent filmmakers think that it is biased against them. That the MPAA gives more priority to sex than violence while providing rating. They also cite discriminatory rating system between Hollywood and independent films, homosexual and heterosexual sex scenes, male and female sexual portrayal, etc. The critics allege that MPAA supports the interests of the big studios. The six big are Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group/The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures/Sony Corporation, Paramount Pictures/Viacom, the 20th Century Fox/News Corporation, Universal Studios/NBC Universal, and Warner Bros/Time Warner.Generally, three main reasons are behind cinema censorship in the world: politics, sex, and violence. Politics is the main factor among them. In Nepal, it was more so in the Panchayat period. In 1981, Maonj Kumar, the Indian filmmaker and actor, made a movie called “Kranti” about the Indian struggles for independence from the British. The Panchayat government banned this film in Nepal.If we go through media reporting on the Censor Board’s behavior to movies like “Dasdhunga” and “Dasgajja”, it shows that official mentality remains unchanged.Dasdhunga is a feature film related to the deaths of two CPN-UML leaders, Madan Bhandari and Jibraj Aashrit, in an “accident” generally known as the Dasdhunga Incident. How did that “accident” happen is still a debate. Many believe that Amar Lama, the driver who was driving the jeep, intentionally caused the accident. But Lama has called that incident as his negligence in his memoir. According to Manoj Pundit, the director of Dasdhunga, he made this movie from existing documents – reports of commissions formed, and memoirs. The Censor Board asked Manoj to scissor a few scenes. He accepted to mute three names – Madhav Kumar Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, and Dr Bharat Pradhan – from the footage. In the movie, during the interrogation with Amar Lama, these names, however, appear.Dasgajja is about border issues – encroachment, looting, and intimidation from Indians – at the Nepal-India borderline. The director of this cinema had experienced hassles and intimidation from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) while shooting the cinema. At home, its producer, Nawal Khadka, informed the media that the Censor Board demanded scissoring 10 scenes and dialogues from the movie. If he accepted the Board’s terms, Dasgajja would be a movie of merely 10 minutes. The Censor Board is denying certification to this film. Manoj Pandit thinks that filmmakers have the right to criticize brutalities from the Indian side in Nepal and India border areas. But the Censor Board fears it may jeopardize the cordial relations between Nepal and India. The reality, however, is much complicated.How did the media present the row between Dasgajja and the Board? Mahendra Guragai, chairman of the Board, has informed that the Board has no qualms on the criticism of looting, raping by Indians; what the Board objects is its presentation. According to Guragai, the film presents facts unrealistically.There are other ongoing issues between the Censor Board and Nepali filmmakers with regards to their films’ rating and clearance for public viewing.RemediesThere are three schools of thought on Nepal’s Censor Board. Some say that cine professionals must handle this job, and everything will be okay. Others say the Board should be an autonomous body and there should be no interference from the state. Quite others say that the Board itself must be made redundant.Manoj Pandit thinks that like other media, there should be no prior censorship of cinema; audiences are the judges.In any case, rating must be done in real sense. That means the Board’s only function is to certify movies. In short, it should be a rating body, not a censoring authority. It must shed off its parental attitude. The present categories are also simplistic, which must be revised. Simultaneously, the Censor Board must increase its PR. It must inform the people how it functions.As is evident, the impasse between Nepal’s private-sector movie industry and the Censor Board is yet to be resolved.


07 April 2010

Why is there less content on media in media themselves?

I hope that media can be important tools for media literacy. But there is a problem. These media give less priority on issues of media. No doubt their interest is on press freedom. But they show interest in publishing praises. They give space if we write articles with the title like fourth estate. But when we criticize them, they would rather kill the article than to publish it. It shows they are intolerable to criticism.
These days CK Lal, an intellect is writing column on media in Nepali Times. This is good. Till today he has written column on Indra Lohani, TV journalism, government-owned media etc. I would be happy when Nepali Times shows courage to publish critical comments about oneself.