Friday, 19 January 2018 | Abraham Thomas | New Delhi-
The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the ban imposed by Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana Governments on the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat. Starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor, the film is scheduled for nationwide release on January 25.
The producers of the movie, Viacom 18, approached the apex court for the second time challenging respective orders issued by the States to stall the screening of the movie citing law and order situation.
However, this may not be the end of the controversy surrounding the film, which was vehemently opposed by Rajasthan-based Karni Sena. In North Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, soon after the SC verdict, self-proclaimed volunteers of this fringe group ransacked a movie theater, which is slated to screen Padmaavat. In Ahmedabad too, Rajput activists protested against the SC order.
Defying the court order, Karni Sena chief Lokendra Singh urged social organisations across the country to make sure that the movie (Padmaavat) is not shown in cinema halls.
“I appeal to social organisations across the entire country, Padmaavat nahi chalni chahiye. Film hall par janata curfew laga de (The movie should not be shown. Public should enforce a curfew at cinema halls),” Lokendra Singh declared soon after the apex court ticked off four State Governments ruled by the BJP for refusing to screen the film.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said, “We respect the SC’s decision, will abide by it. My department & I will look for a legal provision, if one is possible, after reading SC’s decision and then we will move forward.”
Film fraternity members such as actors Ayushmann Khurrana and Rahul Dev, director Madhur Bhandarkar and author Chetan Bhagat took to the social media to thank the SC for its timely intervention.
The court stayed the orders issued by the respective States as an interim measure while issuing notice on the Viacom’s petition to the Centre and the State Governments. The States were directed to maintain law and order and provide security to artists, who performed in the film upon specific request.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who argued for the film producers, submitted that if States begin to use law and order as a tool to ban screening of the film, the federal relations envisaged under the Cinematograph Act will be destroyed. The film has received U/A certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) after a body of experts involving historians recommended several cuts and even asked the producers to change the name of the movie from “Padmavati” to “Padmaavat”.
Salve pointed out that all that has been done out of respect to the Committee which considered balancing the freedom of speech and expression with the sensitivities of a particular community attached with the movie. Despite all this, Salve rued, “If an executive Government of a State says I will throw the certificate issued by the Censor Board into the dustbin, this is lawlessness and suggests breakdown of law in the State.”
The Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud remarked, “If a film like Bandit Queen could pass the test of the SC, we have no hesitation in our mind…
Our judicial conscience is shocked when he hears that the exhibition of a film that is a work of creative intent is guillotined in this manner.”
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta who appeared for the BJP-ruled States of Gujarat and Rajasthan prayed for time till Monday to file their response. He said that the Censor Board does not know the law and order situation in the States while granting approval for screening a film.
“We have specific Intelligence inputs threatening breach of public order,” the law officer said. His fervent appeals were turned away as the court recounted several works of literature in the form of drama, films and books that passed muster of Supreme Court in the interest of protecting free speech and expression of citizens.
Mehta quipped, “Freedom of expression cannot be allowed to distort history. History cannot be distorted in a manner to show Mahatma Gandhi sipping whisky.” Salve pointed out a work of fiction in the West titled “Jesus Christ-Superstar” which passed the test despite harming the sentiments of Christians.
He wondered, “The States have power under the Licensing Act to impose restriction on theatres but they can’t touch its content. That power is with Centre alone. The Union Government should direct States to comply with SC decision rather than come out in support of their ban.” The court directed all responses to be filed by the next date of hearing fixed on March 26.
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