Earlier this week, the Bombay High Court finally allowed Udta Punjab to be released with just one cut, putting an end to a very public spat between Pahlaj Nihalani, the Central Board of Film Certification chairperson, and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, one of Udta Punjab’s producers. The spat began when the CBFC called for several cuts in the movie.
However, this is not the first time that the courts have had to step in to allow the release of a movie. Here are five previous occasions on which filmmakers were allowed to release their films the way they wanted only after getting a court order in their favour.
Chand Bujh Gaya The low-budget feature film by Faaiz Anwar depicts the love story of a Muslim woman and a Hindu man whose lives are torn apart in communal riots. The CBFC refused to certify the film. The higher body of appeal, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, upheld the decision because it felt that the film had gory visuals of violence, and that certain characters bore a strong resemblance to real-life personalities that could once again incite communal violence. Ruling upon a writ petition filed by the filmmakers, the Bombay High Court stated, “The theme of the film is the absolute insensibility of violence. The film does not extol violence nor does it condemn any community as having taking recourse to violence.” Chand Bujh Gaya could only be released in 2005 after the Bombay High Court decision.
Akrosh Ramesh Pimple’s 2004 documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots consists of a series of interviews with riot victims. Though Akrosh was selected for the Hyderabad Film Festival, the documentary was denied certification. The decision was confirmed by FCAT on the grounds that the documentary was a one-sided version of one particular community, and that if it were to be screened, it would lead to further violence. However, the Bombay High Court held that the documentary made a sincere attempt to give expression to the sufferings and woes of the survivors. The CBFC was directed to grant a certificate to the film.
Ore Oru Gramathile K Jyothi Pandian’s 1989 film in Tamil contained criticism that the government’s caste-based reservation policies in employment and education were unfair to Brahmins. The CBFC granted the film a U certificate. However, the Madras High Court revoked the certification and held that the reaction to the film in Tamil Nadu was bound to be volatile because a large number of people in the state have suffered for centuries due to caste discrimination.
The matter reached the Supreme Court, which allowed the film to be released with a U certificate. The Supreme Court held, “Movie is the legitimate and the most important medium in which issues of general concern can be treated. The producer may project his own messages which the others may not approve of. But he has a right to ‘think out’ and put the counter appeals to reason. It is a part of a democratic give-and-take to which no one could complain. The State cannot prevent open discussion and open expression, however, hateful to its policies.”
War and Peace Anand Patwardhan’s 2002 documentary contains criticism of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government’s decision to test nuclear weapons. The examining committee and the revising committee of the CBFC asked for six and 15 cuts respectively, while FCAT reduced the number of cuts to two. However, when the award-winning filmmaker took the case to the Bombay High Court, it ruled that the documentary should be released without any cuts at all, and that it should be certified with a U.
The Bombay High Court held, “By suppressing certain view point, it is not only the propagator of the view point who suffers but it is the society at large and equally the people in authority who suffer. This is because they fail to receive the counter-view and it may eventually lead to an immense damage to the society due to an erroneous decision at the hands of the persons in authority in the absence of the counter- view. That apart, the freedom of speech and expression is important not merely for the consequences that ensue in the absence thereof but since the very negation of it runs as an anti-thesis to basic human values, instincts and creativity.”
The Da Vinci Code Ron Howard’s 2002 movie The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel of the same name, faced numerous protests and demands for a ban by Catholic groups across India. The CBFC certified the film with an A certificate after the producers agreed to add a disclaimer stating that it was a work of fiction. However, despite the CBFC certification, the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Nagaland banned the exhibition of the film under state laws. However, when the filmmakers approached the high courts, the ban was held to be untenable.
The Madras High Court made the simplest observation that those opposed to the content could choose to not watch it: “The persons who object to the film, are not involuntarily and forcibly exposed to the contents of the film. They must buy the tickets to see the film. If someone is offended by what he knows to be the film’s content, he is free to avoid watching the film. It is doubtful whether the objectors or the authorities have even seen the film...”