A million droplets make an ocean, similarly a small judgement/order makes a great precedent. This order by the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, delivered on 28th September, 2019 pertaining to subtitles in movies, is one such droplet that will potentially open the floodgate for the entertainment and media law sector in India.


A movie is the most classic way to express one’s emotions, feelings and sentiments. Everything is captured in one screen and within a fixed duration of time. A person undergoes all the nine emotions (Nava Rasas) in a single movie in some way or the other. One chooses a movie primarily based on language which is usually a language in which they understand. However, for those who want the originality and wish to watch it in the language it was originally released a small set of words come to their rescue. These words are better known as subtitles. Simply put, subtitles are the translation of the movie’s dialogues in a language that is understandable by the viewer. It helps to follow the dialogues better.

Core of the Issue

The issue came up before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court due to a notice (hereinafter “Impugned Notice”) dated 27th April 2018 and the addendum to the notice issued by the Central Board of Film Certification (hereinafter “CBFC”). The circular mandated the makers of all films to sign an undertaking in case the film was certified without subtitles.

Procedure established

The makers of a film exhibit a film after duly obtaining certification from CBFC in terms of The Cinematograph Act, 1952 (“hereinafter “the Act”). The film is certified primarily based on Rule 22 (for Certification procedures) and Rule 33 (for Post-Certification procedures) of the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 (hereinafter “the Rules”). Upon compliance, a film is certified for broadcasting.


Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (hereinafter “the Petitioner”) raised a grievance against the said notice on the grounds that it entails considerable expenditure and also consumption of considerable time because the same film is scrutinized as if it is presented for the first time for certification. They felt that the addition of subtitles would merely require an intimation to the CBFC and the endorsement of the CBFC of its acceptance on the certificate already issued. So long as so much of the procedure is followed, the petitioner had no objection. The CBFC (hereinafter “the Respondent”) contended that the powers of CBFC flow from Section 5-B of the Act and the procedure is laid down in Rule 33 of the Rules read with Rule 22(3) thereof.


Initially, the Court referred to the Respondent’s Affidavit which said that the impugned notice is a way of preventing mischief in cases where subtitles are introduced in the form of alterations after the film is certified, thereby not complying to Rule 33 of the Rules. Clarifying this, the Court observed that any additions of subtitles after certification is required to be reported to CBFC in Form III of the Second Schedule and the CBFC must endorse the particulars of the alteration on the certificate. While observing this, the Court reasoned, a need might arise at a later date for film-makers to add subtitles owing to the region of the film and region of release and this could not be prevented by the impugned notice. Thus, the Court invalidated the notice and declared it unsustainable.


As ‘open and shut’ the case might be, an aspect to be appreciated is the fact that the Court took the first step, despite a year’s gap and invalidated a redundant legal practice. The Court understood the practical difficulty attached to the notice and decided the matter. It clearly lays down that, the addition of subtitles does not amount to alteration. This, in a way, gives more precision to Rule 33 and helps understand what amounts to an alteration of a film. The reasoning of the Court is extremely pragmatic especially to the dynamic film industry. Instead of pecking on the small matters, the Court has looked into the long-range consequences of this practice to arrive at the decision.

Whether this is a step in the right direction or not, only time can tell. However, well begun is half done.