New Delhi: Phantom Films, co-producer of the film Udta Punjab, will move the Bombay high court on Thursday questioning the order of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which has demanded many cuts to the movie, in what is becoming a no-holds-barred battle over freedom of expression.
Udta Punjab deals with the issue of drug abuse and is primarily based in Punjab.
The revising committee of the CBFC has asked the producers of the film to make at least 89 cuts to the film and remove the word Punjab and references to it from the movie.
The suggested cuts are not acceptable to Phantom Films, said lawyer Madhu Gadodia, part of the team at law firm Naik Naik & Co, which is representing the producer, so it will appeal against the CBFC’s decision.
Ordinarily, such cases are decided by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). Justice S.K. Mahajan, who heads the tribunal, is on leave till 16 June. Udta Punjab is scheduled for release on 17 June.
Phantom Films will thus seek a direction from the high court to appoint a chairman for FCAT, who can hear the case. If that isn’t possible, the Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Bahl, Vikramidya Motwane and Madhu Mantena-led production house will ask the court to hear the case.
FCAT, however, is not considered to be a liberal body. So, experts questioned if an FCAT decision would be helpful at all.
Arpan Banerjee, assistant professor at the O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, was critical of FCAT. “FCAT has not been as liberal towards freedom of expression as it ought to have been. Too often, it has merely moderated the CBFC’s orders. For example, the CBFC once denied a certificate to a documentary about Operation Bluestar. The FCAT granted the film a certificate but still demanded 10 cuts, which prompted further litigation in the Delhi high court.
“In a case involving a documentary by Anand Patwardhan that criticised India’s nuclear tests (War and Peace), the FCAT similarly asked for cuts. The Bombay high court later cleared the film without any cuts. More recently, in the case of a Bengali film that criticised the Mamata Banerjee government (Kangal Malsat), the FCAT overruled the CBFC on many grounds but still asked for several cuts," he pointed out.
The Cinematograph Act, 1952 allows the CBFC to refuse certification to a film or any part of it, if it affects “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence". The rules framed under this law allow portions of a film to be “excised or modified" for the grant of a suitable rating of either ‘A’, ‘UA’, ‘U’ or ‘S’, which translate to ‘adults’, ‘parental guidance’, ‘unrestricted’ and ‘restricted to special class’, respectively.
The number of cuts and the nature of changes suggested by CBFC to Udta Punjab have come in for a lot of criticism.
“The certification board and reviewing board should not have insisted on so many cuts and deletions and removing the word Punjab from the film. It will take away the focus of the film from the menace of the society. That is where they seem to have gone wrong. The Act says that the board has to see the movie and its impact as a whole and not lay stress on certain specific issues. Ultimately, it depends on the good sense of the certification board. The paramount consideration should be freedom of expression, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right," said lawyer Lalit Bhasin, also a former chairman of FCAT.
Phantom Films had moved the high court earlier on Wednesday seeking a copy of the CBFC order, which it claimed was not provided. However, Pahlaj Nihalani, chairman of CBFC, told Times Now that the same was available on Tuesday but not collected by the producers.
On Wednesday, several producers, directors and industry members held a press conference condemning the CBFC for acting like a censor board rather than a certification body. Among those present were directors Mahesh Bhatt, Zoya Akhtar, CBFC member Ashoke Pandit and Kashyap himself.