Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Nothing legal about this

For decades, in order for a film to be shown to the Censor Board, film-makers needed a title registration certificate from the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, as well as permission from the Kerala Film Producers Association. But a recent landmark High Court ruling has said that there is no legal basis for a title registration certificate. This will change the face of the Kerala film industry

Photos: Director Vinayan and a still of the film, 'Raghuvinte Swantham Rasiya'

By Shevlin Sebastian

When director Vinayan approached the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce for the registration of the title of his new film, 'Raghuvinte Swantham Rasiya', he was refused permission. Without the Title Registration, the film cannot be shown to the Censor Board.

“I immediately realised that they were doing this out of vindictiveness,” says Vijayan. “This organisation, as well as the Kerala Film Producers Association, which has to give the initial permission, has been under the remote-control of superstars like Mammooty and Mohanlal.” Vinayan had angered the duo when he went public with accusations that they held a Mafia-like grip on the industry and played favourites (See Zeitgeist, April 17, 2010).

A desperate Vinayan had no option but to file a writ petition in the Kerala High Court challenging the decision of the Chamber. On November 23, 2010, in a landmark ruling, judge Antony Dominic said there is no provision in the Cinematograph Act 1952 and Cinematograph (Certification Rules), 1983 that a producer needs to obtain a certificate or clearance from the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce and the Kerala Film Producers Association.

“It is a turning point,” says Vinayan. “For more than fifty years, so many producers and directors have been harassed by these two organisations. But it is clear that they had no legal basis to issue this certificate.”

Even for a small-budget film, a first-time producer has to take a mandatory life membership of the producers association which costs Rs 1 lakh. “That is fine but they would dictate terms like which technicians should be hired and who should act in the film,” says Vinayan.

“Not at all,” says Sabu Cheriyan, the president of the Film Producers Association. “Our job is to give permission, so that the Film Chamber can issue the certificate. We do not decide who is going to act in a film. We ask first-time producers to take a life membership, which costs Rs 50,000.”

But Vinayan says that this figure is not correct. “Apart from the Rs 50,000 fee, the association charges Rs 10,000 to check whether there is any video piracy, another Rs 15,000 is taken for a Building Fund and there are more collections under other sub-heads,” he says. “In total, a producer pays Rs 1.05 lakh” (Another director who confirms this is Dr. Biju. See box).

Sabu says that most producers have been happy with the functioning of the association. “There will always be one or two disgruntled people,” he says. “Vinayan is one of them.”

Vinayan says that most of the producers have made only one or two films, and are afraid to take on the might of the office-bearers. “They do not have the clout and influence and hence they remain silent,” he says.

Meanwhile, a worried Sabu says that the ruling could cause chaos in the industry. “When a producer comes to register a title, who will know whether there are other films with the same name?” he says. “The Film Chamber and the Producers Association were keeping track of all this.”

Interestingly, both associations have not appealed against the judgement. However, M.A. George, the general secretary of the Film Chamber says that the executive committee will decide in the coming month whether they would be contesting the verdict. But an upbeat Vinayan says, “They cannot go to the court, because they have no legal standing.”

There are moves to take the help of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at Delhi to implement an ordnance, giving the associations the authority once again. “But that will be immediately challenged in court,” says Vinayan. “I have received a lot of support from producers. They told me that they have finally become free of the clutches of the office-bearers and the superstars.”

One such producer is P.T. Abraham, a former treasurer of the Film Producers Association. On December 20, he wrote a letter to D.P. Reddy, a joint secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at the Centre where he spoke about the unsavoury activities of the association.

Abraham wrote: “It is a well known fact that Mr. Evershine Money, secretary of the Film Chamber in 2009, asked for Rs 5 lakh to issue a Publicity Clearance Certificate for a film. Several similar complaints have arisen from every nook and corner of the film industry in Kerala. The Association Secretary G. Suresh Kumar threatens the poor and helpless technicians and makes them work for a nominal remuneration. These days, efforts are being made to expel those who raise their voices against such nasty practices.”

One such nasty practice, Abraham alleged, was that the association would refuse certificates to people whom they did not like. “This infringed on the fundamental right of freedom and expression,” he says. “Because Vinayan has been on a confrontational mode with the superstars, the producers association opposed him. It was with great difficulty that he got the certificate for his 2010 film, 'Yakshiyum Njanum.'”

Meanwhile, Abraham says that since the High Court ruling has proved that the Film Producers Association had no legal standing, they should return the money they have taken from the producers over so many years. “Since I was the treasurer, I can tell you that the money has been used for drinking and other vices,” he says. “Sometimes, bribes were given to politicians to curry favour.”

Apparently, the Association earned Rs 1 crore in fees last year. Sabu scoffs at the figure. “This is just gossip,” he says. “Last year, 72 films were released. It is only first-time producers who have to pay Rs 50,000. Thereafter, for his second film, he has to pay only Rs 1000 for a title registration. In 2010, there may have been 40 first-time producers. We earned around Rs 28 lakh in fees.”

Vinayan counters this by saying that 130 films were registered. “Out of that, 72 were indeed released,” he says. “But the association did collect the fees of the 58 unmade films.” He alleges that there is misappropriation of funds. “A proper audit will confirm this,” he says. When Vinayan spoke about this publicly, he was expelled from the association in May, 2010.

In Thiruvanthapuram, T.P. Madhu Kumar, Additional Regional Officer at the Censor Board says that the Board has already implemented the High Court ruling. “Producers no longer need to get a title registration certificate from the film chamber in order to receive a censorship certificate,” he says.

Finally, Vinayan says, “The greatness of this ruling is that any talented youngster can now make a film, without getting the permission of a superstar or association. And that has given me the most happiness.”

Other voices

‘The state government should issue the certificate’

Dr. Biju, who directed Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The Way Home). This was adjudged the best Malayalam film at the International Film Festival, 2010, at Thiruvananthapuram

The High Court ruling is a major development. For too long, the Film Chamber and the Producers Association dictated the terms. For the registration of the title of a film, a first-time producer has to pay Rs 1 lakh. But before that they will insist that the technicians who are working in the film should have membership in various film trade organizations. If you are not a member you will not be allowed to work.

It is a form of blackmail. Because of their autocratic ways, there is a fear psychosis in the industry. People are scared of going against the associations. And that is harmful for the future.

The state government should take up the responsibility of issuing the certificate, with a nominal fee, like it is done in West Bengal.

Thanks to this judgement, more and more youngsters will get a chance. It is freedom for the newcomers. And that is great news! Now there is a possibility of a new creative wave in Malayalam films.

‘The dictatorship should end’

Actor Thilakan: The associations have been behaving like a dictatorship for a very long time. They have only given preference to the people who support them. All of them are pawns in the hands of the superstars, Mammooty and Mohanlal. Both are not interested in art. They just want to make crores of rupees. Too many people are scared and will not speak out. They fear that it will harm their careers.

This ruling will give the chance for youngsters to make a mark. For too long, they have been prevented from getting a foothold in the industry. But I am sure all this will change with this judgement.



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