Cinema, one of the most important entertainment industries, is transformative. Its expectation and inspiration is beyond its entertainment value. For this reason, cinema becomes vulnerable at the hands of regimes wishing to control the thoughts and ideas being consumed by the mass public. Only a few countries, mostly in the south part of the world such as India, Bangladesh, Iran, China, and Malaysia still have a censor board.
The Bangladesh Film Censor Board is guided mostly by colonial laws. They decide which images should be presented to the public and which type of cinema can be consumed by them. But what are the images the Censor Board find threatening? How does it affect the quality of film production? Is it really necessary to censor the creative ideas of our cinematic minds? How does it help in the evolution of our cinematic industry? These are the often asked questions that are unanswered.
Censor Board was actually established to control cultural production that inspired anti-colonial beliefs amongst people. So, the sole purpose of this board was to control the thoughts of freedom against anti-colonial power by controlling the creative aspects of cinema. The Cinematograph Act, 1918 was then set up by the British-Indian government to prevent the exhibition of objectionable films. Loosely hinting at the political atmosphere in the then colonial India was the main reason.
The Cinematograph Act, 1918 was later used as the basis of making the very first censor board in east Bengal known as East Bengal Board of Film Censors in 1952. Censorship of Films Act, 1963 was introduced by the Pakistan Government with some additional clauses. Consequently, the Dhaka and Lahore film Censor Board were formed. However, both Acts are still in effect. These form the fundamental documents that help to run the Bangladesh Film Censor Board. The rules and regulations to run the censor board were published later in 1977. It includes the functions of Bangladesh Film Censor Board (BFCB), methods of censoring a cinema, reasons or criteria to censor a cinema and so on.
The Censor Board consists of not more than fifteen members, who are the representatives from the different ministries mostly, including a chairman who is the secretary of the Ministry of Information. Some commercial film-related people get the memberships who are nominated by the government. These individuals decide what is appropriate for the country to absorb, what the country people should enjoy and what they shouldn’t. Their moral, religious and political values differ among themselves and thus heavily influence the decisions of the Censor Board.
There are some very basic reasons or criteria to censor a cinema. Apart from the board rules and regulations, a film can be censored on the basis of various reasons such as security, religion, crime, obscenity etc. In an independent country like Bangladesh, discriminating the indigenous people, belittling the values or morals of the country, dishonoring the flag, influencing or promoting the violence against political motive, revealing sensitive military secrets, portraying the defense forces negatively, promoting religious violence, containing any kind of propaganda which is against the actual information of the country, violating the third country principle, explicit nude content, promoting crime etc. play a pivotal role to a cinema be censored.
After the independence of Bangladesh, the same clause from the 1963 Act was applied to ban both Indian and Pakistani films to resist the dominating effect of Hindi-language and Urdu-language films. These measures were needed to make the local industry safe. On the other hand, these efforts to push the Bengali-language centric national cinema actively discriminated against the non-Bengali speakers of the country, such as the indigenous community, by making their cultural thoughts mostly invisible. There is no explicit clause that daunts other languages in censorship laws, but there’s no direct or indirect mention of inclusiveness of other languages either. People are mature enough to judge the quality of films nowadays. On the other hand our Censorship Act is not very friendly and clear to the producers and filmmakers. It has sections that can allow the filmmakers to question the board in future.
Traditional, independent or socially relevant films suffer the most at the hands of the Censor Board. In several cases, art films have faced rejection certificates from Censor Board. Censor Board claims that they definitely do not allow vulgarity but they are more liberal with the context of women empowerment. People will lose the interest to go to theaters if they are not allowed to show these. According to their beliefs, excusing these images is the only way for film culture to survive. These beliefs expose that The Censor Board is only focusing on the “industry” part of the film rather than its cultural function in the social aspects. This lacks the thoughts and creativity for judging non-commercial and art films aiming far more than commercial success.
Basically, in this digital era, content is so freely flowing online. Platform has changed. Mobile, laptop etc. have taken the place of cinema halls. Easy access to the internet is introducing worldwide cultural diversity, films to people. Conceptual thoughts of people are developing massively. So, the capacity censorship is increasingly limited. Censor Board assumes that the public is not intelligent enough to think for themselves or may be the opposite-perhaps ruling groups are too threatened by the intelligible power of cinematic images. Whatever it may be, in actuality censorship simply hinders the growth of national cinema.
To make the censorship criteria more evaluative and the process of censoring any cinema or alike more effective, Bangladesh Film Censor Board (BFCB) committee should be evaluated and introduced to the contemporary and modern aspects. Coding/grading system to label the film should be started for film censoring. Again, BFCB should take measures to prevent all administrative problems and corruptions. Issuing formalities of Film Censorship Certificate should be easier and faster. BFCB can reduce the number of bureaucrats and increase film related experienced and honest persons and young talents in participation of their administrations for the better future of Bangladeshi film.
Commercial Bengali films with knock-off plots and cheap item songs were popular amongst a majority of the population and the reason for this was not a matter of taste or intelligence. Bangladeshi mass public was far away from experiencing an engaging and thought-provoking cinema. But now the situation has changed. Authority like Censor Board regulates the structure of film production. It discourages enthusiastic filmmakers with new-age thinking. For serving the true purpose we must first separate cinema from its colonial roots of control. Only then our young enthusiastic mind can become a breeding ground for revolutionary ideas.
Nur Hossain Baishakh
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