India May Mandate Captioning, Sign Language Interpreting for Feature Films

India May Mandate Captioning, Sign Language Interpreting

The Indian government could soon enforce guidelines to make films more accessible to fans with hearing and visual impairments, ushering in new opportunities for language services providers with those offerings.

In a January 8, 2024 notice, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) invited public comment on “Guidelines of Accessibility Standards in the Public Exhibition of Feature Films in Cinema Theatres for Persons with Hearing and Visual Impairment.”

According to the document, India’s 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act mandates the government to take measures to promote universal service for people with aural and visual disabilities, including access to films. 

The proposed guidelines would apply to feature films (minimum runtime: 72 minutes) certified by the Central Board of Film Certification for public, commercial exhibition in movie theaters.  

The MIB provided some advice regarding accessibility standards, from audio description (which should be concise enough to enhance, rather than detract from, the film) to closed and open captioning (in terms of typography and on-screen location) to Indian Sign Language interpreting (displayed in picture-in-picture mode with the interpreter’s hands and facial expressions both visible).

The guidelines would require producers to deliver two sets of a given film for certification: the original and a second version with accessibility features. Producers would be responsible for managing and ensuring accessibility features for each film, though “[t]he appropriate Government may consider mandatory funding of accessibility features in films financially supported by them.”

Theaters would have several options for displaying the accessibility features, whether by dedicating specific screenings for viewers who want to use them, or by allowing attendees to use mobile apps on their personal devices during standard showings to integrate closed captioning or audio description. 

Technological solutions are also listed, including seats equipped with audio description-enabled headphones or earphones; closed caption stands, described as “small rectangular screens” that display captions to the side of an individual viewer; and closed captioning smart glasses.

Justification for the Additional Cost

The MIB will accept comments on the proposed guidelines until February 8, 2024. All feature films under consideration for certain national film awards would be mandated to include closed captions and audio descriptions beginning January 1, 2025.

The guidelines specify that all feature films dubbed in more than one language — likely a not insignificant number in famously multilingual India — must provide at least one accessibility feature for the hearing and visually impaired, respectively, within six months of the guidelines’ effective date. 

Within three years of the guidelines’ date of issue, all feature films certified through CBFC and meant for theatrical release would be required to provide accessibility features. Movie theaters would also have to provide accessibility features within the same timeframe. 

“The film industry should consider the provision of accessibility features in films as a measure leading to increase in their audience and box office revenues, and therefore a justification for incurring the additional cost on accessibility features,” the proposed guidelines concluded.