Admonishing the censor board for acting like a “grandmother”, the Bombay High Court today ordered it to certify movie ‘Udta Punjab’ within 48 hours with just one cut instead of 13 suggested by the CBFC so its producers can release it on schedule on June 17.
“Barring the deletion of the urination scene as directed by the board and modification of the disclaimer, the June 6 order passed by the CBFC’s revising committee directing for a total of 13 changes in the movie is quashed and set aside,” the court said, clearing the decks for the release of the drug-themed film whose makers were locked in a dispute with the censor board.
In a strongly worded order, the bench comprising Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi said,”Do not act like a grandmother. Change as per the times now. The CBFC need not be over-sensitive in the matter of art.”
Making a strong pitch against curbing creativity, the court said,”The CBFC cannot stop creative people abruptly as it may discourage them. This will kill creativity. These days filmmakers are brutal, direct and straightforward. One need not treat them harshly just because of this.”
It also raised questions about Central Board of Film Certification’s powers to censor movies as the word censor did not figure in the Cinematograph Act and said if cuts had to be made, those should be in consonance with the Constitution and directions of the Supreme Court.
“Censor in common parlance means to certify a movie. Therefore, if by law the board is empowered to make changes, cuts, or deletions, this power of the CBFC must be consistently in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Supreme Court directions,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.
The court was hearing a petition filed by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films challenging the CBFC order.
The CBFC’s direction for multiple cuts in the film had triggered a political storm with Congress and AAP accusing the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab, which is going to polls next year, of using their influence to get it censored. The charge was denied by Punjab’s ruling alliance.
The makers of “Udta Punjab”, who had moved the Bombay High Court against CBFC’s demand for cuts, hailed the verdict, calling it a “landmark judgement” and victory for the entire film industry.
“The hard work of the lawyers has paid off. I am terribly pleased with the verdict. I hope films will be viewed in context and there won’t be a blanket on cinema,” Abhishek Chaubey told reporters here, outside the high court.
The CBFC had initially ordered as many as 89 cuts which was subsequently brought down to 13 by its revising committee.
The court turned down the plea of CBFC counsel Advait Sethna to stay its order to enable them move the Supreme Court against it.
The court asked the film producers to put out a revised disclaimer deleting reference to Pakistan. They will also have
to make additions to the disclaimer to the effect that the movie, its characters and the filmmakers do not promote the use of drugs and abusive language, and that the film is only an attempt to depict the reality of drug abuse.
On cutting out the urination scene, Justice Dharmadhikari said, “The CBFC is justified in directing deletion of the scene as the shot was unnecessary given the backdrop and the theme of the movie. Instead of this particular scene, the filmmaker could have taken recourse to other methods to depict the same.”
The court noted that it has read the film’s script and did not find anything in it that showed Punjab in a bad light or affected the sovereignty, integrity or security of India.
“It is undisputed that the CBFC possesses powers to call for cuts, changes, deletions in a movie while certifying it. These powers come into play if the film affects the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, foreign relations, public order, and or is likely to incite commission of an offence. There is a heavy burden on the authority to show that the restrictions imposed are reasonable,” the bench observed.
In the present case, the CBFC-imposed restrictions were not correct. The movie has to be seen as a whole and it was not permissible to take the characters, scenes and songs in isolation and out of context, the judges said.
“It is open for a creative person to select the background, setting and accordingly weave the story. It is entirely on the creative person to choose the setting, pattern, underlying theme and storyline.
“Creative freedom allows use of certain words as per the choice of the filmmaker. Nobody can dictate to him as to how the movie should be made or its content,” the court said.
The bench said it was in agreement with the petitioners that there was an increasing menace of drug abuse amongst the youth in Punjab.
“The film is meant for adult viewing. If a maker chooses this way of depicting the movie and a subject, then it is not for anybody to restrict it. Like the CBFC, even we would be happy if better words were coined and used by the filmmaker,” the judges said.