Report of the Film Enquiry Committee

Timelines: All, India Categories: 1950s, Committee and report, Country, Decade, Government, India
Date: 1951


India’s newly independent Central Government appointed a new Film Enquiry Committee on 29 August 1949 (Bhowmik 2009). S.K. Patil chaired this committee and its members included two important film industry figures, B.N. Sircar and V. Shantaram, the founders of New Theatres Ltd. and Prabhat Film Company respectively (Barnouw and Krishnaswamy 1980). Rather than being focused on censorship or classification exclusively, the Film Enquiry Committee sought to investigate the industry broadly, including regarding matters of legitimate financing, taxation, and the state’s role in film production. Sumita Chakrabarty (1993, 66) describes the committee’s aims:
“first, to enquire into the film industry’s organization and growth and to indicate the lines for further development; second, to examine what measures should be adopted to ‘enable films in India to develop into an effective instrument for the promotion of national culture, education and healthy entertainment’; and finally, to look into the possibility of manufacturing raw film and film equipment within the country and to suggest standards for the import of raw film and equipment.”

The Report of the Film Enquiry Committee was published in 1951. Most accounts describe that the report’s recommendations were not implemented by governments, including the suggestion for new institutions to guide producers in relation to the censorship process (Mehta 2011). Notably, the report highlighted an absence of films made with a child audience specifically in mind; subsequently, the state-funded Children’s Film Society was established in 1955. In the two years since the Cinematograph Amendment Act 1949 had established the dual-category certificate system (including the “U” and “A” categories), the report noted that some producers and exhibitors had exploited the A certificate in promotional material, implying that it contained “salacious” content (GoI 1951, 22). This echoed historical concerns in India about film posters deemed to titillate potential filmgoers, even where the sexual content being advertised had been removed from films under the authority of the Cinematograph Act 1918.

The report was critical of the absence of guidelines provided to distinguish between the A and U categories, acknowledging the subjective nature of censorship as practice: “62. Human factor in censorship: Even though principles and rules might be standardised, judgement is bound to vary with individuals” (GoI 1951, 19). It specified that under the UK system at the time, “young persons below 18 are permitted to see films which have received only an ‘Adult’ or ‘A’ certificate, when they are accompanied by one or their parents or guardians”, with such adults presumed to “correct any wrong impression” provided by films “likely to give a distorted view of life to young persons without sufficient worldly experience” (GoI 1951, 22). This is an early reference to the concept of parental guidance that is formalised in the 1983 amendments to the Cinematograph Act 1952. – Liam Grealy

Further reading:
– Barnouw, E., & Krishnaswamy, S. (1980). Indian film. New York: Oxford University Press.
– Bhowmik, S. (2009). Cinema and censorship: The politics of control in India. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.
– Chakravarty, S. (1993). National identity in Indian popular cinema, 1947-1987. Austin: University of Texas Press.
– Government of India (1951). Report of the Film Enquiry Committee.
– Mehta, M. (2011). Censorship and sexuality in Bombay cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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