Home / Politics / Policy /  ‘Udta Punjab’ row: Bombay high court to pass order on Monday

The Bombay high court is set to rule on Monday on the cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to the movie Udta Punjab. The ruling could be significant not only in terms of the freedom of expression aspect for film makers, but also the extent of powers of the CBFC, often called the censor board.

Here’s a quick look at what the issue is all about.

What is the controversy?

Udta Punjab, produced by Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films and Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, is a movie which deals with the drug problem in Punjab.

The CBFC asked the film makers to remove all references to Punjab, its cities and politicians to ensure it becomes a fictitious film. It was alleged that the movie was politically motivated as it was being released ahead of the upcoming Punjab state elections next year, in a bid to show the current dispensation of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in bad light. SAD is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), governing at the Centre.

Mumbai-based newspaper Midday reported that there were 13 cuts suggested. According to Kashyap’s tweet, these became 94 cuts under 13 different heads.

Film makers and producers came together against the CBFC claiming that it was merely a certification body and should not act as a censor board.

On Sunday, the Pahlaj Nihalani-led CBFC cleared the movie with the 13 cuts.

Why is the Bombay high court involved?

Co-producer of the movie, Phantom Films, moved the high court originally against the CBFC seeking a copy of the order suggesting these cuts. It claimed the CBFC hadn’t given the official copy based on which Phantom could decide further course of action. Later, they also challenged the contents of the order, questioning the cuts themselves.

The court heard the case over two days last week and was critical of the CBFC’s functioning.

According to a report in the Economic Times, the court was of the opinion that removing references of Punjab would affect the film’s core.

“From every dialogue and scene of the film, if reference to Punjab will have to be deleted then the crux of the film will be lost. If the idea of the maker is to be critical of a place or person then that place or person will have to be shown," the bench said.

What can be expected from the order?

The Bombay high court’s order could bring clarity over how much of Udta Punjab will be censored. The movie is scheduled for release on 17 June, so any final order will be crucial.

The high court’s order could also further define the CBFC’s role, not as a censoring body but as a certification board.

Why is it important?

The significance of the court’s ruling, aside from the impact on the producers and others involved in the movie, will be on the wider issue of censoring and the freedom of expression, which is a guaranteed fundamental right, albeit with certain restrictions.

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