Cinematograph Act

Timelines: All, India Categories: 1910s, Country, Decade, Government, India, Law
Date: 1918


A bill addressing the state’s capacity to censor film was introduced to India’s Legislative Council in 1917. India’s Cinematograph Act 1918 was passed in the final months of World War I and came into effect from 1 August 1920. This Act was based directly on the British Cinematograph Act 1909 that preceded the establishment of the British Board of Film Censors in 1912. The central objects of the 1918 Act were “(1) to provide for the safety of audiences, and (2) to prevent the exhibition of objectionable films” (ICC 1928, 105). This Act, which inaugurated formal censorship in India, represents the concern of the colonial government over both the medium of film, including its content, and the context of its exhibition in the cinema.

The Cinematograph Act 1918 made it mandatory for exhibitors to secure a license from local civil authorities to screen a film, and for censorship to precede any film exhibited in India. Certified films would be deemed “suitable for public exhibition”. These requirements applied to both foreign and Indian films, and sought to censor films that might undermine the moral superiority of white men and women, and foster sympathy for the nationalist movement. In 1920, Censor Boards were established in the port cities of Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Rangoon. The British Board of Film Censors’ guidelines were used by Bombay and Calcutta Censor Boards to develop their own “General Principles of Film Censorship” (Mehta 2011). A certificate granted by any of these boards was applicable across India, however a film could have its certificate revoked by any provincial government. This action was typically undertaken by a District Magistrate or Commissioner of Police (Sharma 2009).

The Report of the Indian Cinematograph Committee (1928) recommended that censorship come under a central authority, while otherwise claiming that mechanisms for restricting content were generally functioning effectively (Shoesmith 1988). In 1949, the Cinematograph Act 1918 was amended to include A and U certificates and to centralise censorship. The A category was drawn from the UK adult category of the time, although it excluded the possibility of minor attendance at A-certified films that the UK certificate allowed (GoI 1951). – Liam Grealy

Further reading:
– Bhowmik, S. (2009). Cinema and censorship: The politics of control in India. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.
– India, Government of. (1928) Report of the Indian Cinematograph Committee 1927-1928. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch.
– Mehta, M. (2011). Censorship and sexuality in Bombay cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press.
– Sharma, M. (2009). Censoring India: Cinema and the tentacles of empire in the early years. South Asia Research, 29(1), 41-73.
– Shoesmith, B. (1988). The problem of film: A reassessment of the significance of the Indian Cinematograph Committee, 1927-1928. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 2(1), 74-89.

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