The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the notification passed by the states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat against the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial Padmaavat. Producers of the film, Viacom18, on Wednesday had moved the Supreme Court challenging the ban on its screening by four states across the country.

The film’s release has been caught in the middle of a controversy after right-wing groups protested against it and alleged that it had historical inaccuracies.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the film’s producers, told the Supreme Court that the states banning the film were “destroying the federal structure”, ANI reported. “If somebody has a problem, then he or she can approach appellate tribunal for relief,” Salve told the court. “The state cannot touch the content of a film. We request the central government to pass a direction to the states for a better and an effective step and solution.”

The bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, ordered in favour of the Padmaavat makers.“Creative freedom, freedom of speech and expression can’t be guillotined... artistic freedom has to be protected,” the bench, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, said.

Misra said it is the state’s duty and obligation to maintain law and order, and it cannot use its machinery to prohibit a film’s exhibition citing risk to public order, The Hindu reported. “If you go by the arguments against films, I have no hesitation in saying 60% of classical literature cannot be read,” NDTV quoted Misra as saying.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the states, asked the court to provide them another day to present their case. “It is not a case where a man is going to be hanged in a day,” Mehta said, according to News18.

However, the Supreme Court said conditional freedom cannot wait for a day.

The movie, which was originally slated to be released on December 1, is now scheduled for release on January 25.

On Tuesday, Haryana had banned the film citing law and order reasons. It was the fourth state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party to ban the historical drama. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said on January 12 that their governments would not allow the release of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-director film. Rajasthan had said on January 9 that theatres across the state will not screen the film.

The Goa Police had also asked the Manohar Parrikar-led government to not allow the screening of the movie.

There were also reports of the Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh governments banning the film. But Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adtiyanath was non-committal about it. “I am not a future teller,” he said when reporters asked him if the movie would be screened in Uttar Pradesh. Himachal Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had said on Sunday that the state will not ban the film if there is nothing controversial in it.

The controversy

Repeated protests and threats of violence by Rajput groups, led by the Rajput Karni Sena, stalled the movie’s release and delayed its certification. The censor board had appointed a panel of historians to look into the claim that the film contains historical inaccuracies. The movie was finally cleared with a few changes on the condition that Bhansali and Viacom18 Motion Pictures change the title from Padmavati to Padmaavat to align it closer to its source material.

Starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor, the historical drama is based on the 16th century poem of the same name by Malik Muhammad Jaisi.