New Delhi: The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or censor board, long perceived by the industry to be scissor-happy and dictatorial, wants to play a constructive role. CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, a film producer himself, has suggested that the ministry of information and broadcasting allow the board to bestow a new category of certification—the ‘Q’ rating—on quality films that provide clean family entertainment.
Apart from government recognition, this rating would make these films eligible for tax benefits, the granting of which is a state-specific subject.
“Quality films that get the ‘U’ certificate without any cuts and are family entertainers should get benefits from states as well as recognition from the government," Nihalani said over a telephone conversation. “This way, producers will at least take the risk to make quality films."
The proposal is still being worked out and the censor board hopes it materializes.
Nihalani has proposed the new category specifically for Hindi films. Regional cinema, he said, anyway gets benefits and recognition from state governments. For example, in Tamil Nadu, Tamil films are tax free if they have a Tamil title and a ‘U’ certificate from the censor board. Moreover, last year, an order of the Madras high court directed theatre owners to pass on the benefit of entertainment tax exemptions to viewers. This meant that audiences would save almost ₹ 36 on a ₹ 120 ticket.
States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Gujarat provide tax exemption to films made in their respective local languages.
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“Hindi cinema has been protecting the Hindi language globally, but gets no benefits. Producers should be encouraged with tax exemption to start thinking of good cinema," Nihalani said. “Ticket rates are so high and because there are no benefits, small-budget movies have to suffer. Young talent gets wasted, people lose money and there is so much obscenity and vulgarity thrown around."
Nihalani cites the example of the Marathi and Gujarati film industries that are thriving because of state government incentives. He hopes film producers will come together for the cause and ensure the government takes notice.
While the criteria for awarding a ‘Q’ certificate are still being worked out by the censor board, what is certain is that these will be films that get the ‘U’ certificate and are cleared without cuts. Plus, there should be a strong social message, motivational theme or a real-life story being told, said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine, Complete Cinema.
In the past, Farhan Akhtar-starrer Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), based on ace sprinter Milkha Singh’s life, was declared tax-free in states like Maharashtra, Goa and Bihar. The film ended up making ₹ 108 crore at the box office, according to movie website Bollywood Hungama. More recently, Fox Star Studios’ acclaimed biopic Neerja (2016), in February, gained tax exemption in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra and netted ₹ 75 crore at the box office.
Loopholes, however, remain.
“Almost 80% of the movies are passed without any cuts and with a ‘U’ certificate. But are all of them that good? That is quite debatable because 95% of these very films might have flopped at the box office," pointed out Mohan.
He added that the censor board awarding a ‘Q’ certificate to a yet-to-be-released film may, in a way, mean it is endorsing the project. Producers could lap it up as a smart marketing gimmick and help the film gain undue publicity.
“Yes, there are loopholes. It’s like a few people get to decide what is good for all. Plus, every filmmaker will argue in favour of his project," said Girish Johar, head of global revenue, Zee Studios. “But why not? Benefits like these will only promote good cinema."