Last month, a suit for compensation of Tk15 crore was brought against the director of a Bangladeshi telefilm 'Shesh Golpota Tumiee'. The Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU), a part of the Bangladesh Forest Department, filed the suit claiming that fifty seconds of the telefilm showed a parrot in captivity which they claim is in violation of the provisions of Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012. The claim was brought under sections 38 (2), 41 and 46 of the Act.
More recently, the same provisions were claimed to be violated by another director who directed the contemporary popular film 'Hawa'. A specific scene of the film briefly showed a Common Myna (locally called shalik) being held cage-captive and later eaten.
The suit was filed on 17 August 2022 in the Metropolitan Sessions Court of Dhaka by the same Wildlife Crime Control Unit (WCCU). Both the directors were alleged to have displayed birds in captivity in the film which is claimed to be a violation of the above law. Hence let us take a deeper look at what the law says to determine whether such accusation was justified or not.
Section 38 of the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012 talks about penalties for killing birds or migratory birds etc. Section 38(1) makes it an offence if a person kills any local or migratory bird and they shall be punished for a term not exceeding one year or with a fine not exceeding Tk1 lakh or with both. If they are repeat offenders, they shall be punished with jail term not exceeding two years or with a fine not exceeding Tk2 lakh or with both.
Section 38(2) makes the person who collects, acquires, purchases, sells or transports any trophy, uncured trophy, meat, parts of body of local or migratory birds that are mentioned in the schedule I and II, liable to be punished with an imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or with fine not exceeding Tk30 thousand or with both. For repeat offenders, the jail term will be not exceeding one year or fine not exceeding fifty thousand taka or with both.
Section 42 talks about abetting the aforementioned acts as an offence and Section 46 makes companies or commercial firms liable to offences committed under this Act.
None of the above-mentioned sections of the said 2012 Act makes mere depiction of animals in captivity in films as an offence, unless they are shown to be tortured. However, the proper definition of animal cruelty can be found in another law.
Section 6(d) of Animal Welfare Act 2019 defines "cruelty" to animals also includes restricting an animal to such an extent and in such a manner that makes the animal unable to stand, sit, or function in its natural ways.
Punishment for restricting movements of animals is up to six months of imprisonment or Tk10 thousand fine or both, under section 16(a) of the same act.
Who is really at fault, who takes the blame?
Although the bird eating scene in 'Hawa' might look like it attracts violation of the above laws, in reality this might not be the case. Certain movie plots necessitate display of animals as a part of its cinematic reality.
In most of these cases, animals are neither hurt nor killed and, in some cases, there are no real animals to begin with, thanks to graphics animation or Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) doing it for the filmmakers. But before a film could even make it to the theatres, a lot of scrutiny and filtration take place on the backend; no wonder some films take ages to release.
The Bangladesh Film Censorship Board has the responsibility to examine, certify and decertify films for public exhibition in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Censorship of Film Rules 1977 lays down the principles to be followed by the Board in examination of the films and in furtherance of it, the Code for Censorship of Films in Bangladesh 1985 was passed.
The 1985 Code further elaborates these principles under eight headings, namely Security or Law and Order, International Relations, Religious susceptibilities, Immorality or Obscenity, Bestiality, Crime, Plagiarism and Miscellaneous.
If a film falls under any of these categories, it shall be regarded as unsuitable for public exhibition and the board shall not grant a certificate. Code 1 (V) of the 1985 Code talks about Bestiality as one of the categories that includes "(a) Exhibits wanton cruelty to animals, (b) Shows exaggerated horror, torture or cruelty or suffering which creates severe adverse reaction among the spectators and (c) Depicts third degree methods unless otherwise it is for the betterment of the society."
Rule 8 of the 1977 Rules states that if the Censor Board decides that a film is unsuitable for public exhibition unless a specified portion thereof is excised, the applicant shall be informed accordingly and if he consents to such excision and forfeiture of the portion objected to, the portion so specified shall be excised.
After the excision, censorship certificate will be granted but it shall bear a clearly visible triangle drawn at the left-hand bottom corner of it. Excision of films for public exhibition is one of the functions of the Secretary of the Board and they shall send a report to the Government regarding such excision.
If what was shown in the films mentioned above falls under bestial category, then the board granting them certificate for public exhibition without excising those parts was a clear violation of the censorship laws.
No film would even be granted a certificate, let alone be released for public viewing. It is the Censorship Board rather than the individual filmmakers who get to decide which films make it to the movie theatres.
Depicting real animals in films can be a form of a realistic touch. Such objects or depictions do not necessarily have to be real but a re-created reality in order to cater to the needs of a movie plot.
The Censor Board must adhere to its own regulations and introduce mandatory disclaimers such as "No Animals were harmed during filming" for every film. Filmmakers would be aware of their duties and the Board can regulate them on a regular basis. This way a lot of unexpected situations can be avoided.
Barrister Aiman R Khan Associate Advocate, Rahman Law Associates & Company
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.