The Bombay High Court set a strong precedent on Monday by allowing drug-themed Bollywood film “Udta Punjab” take flight, overruling the censor board’s suggestion of 13 cuts. The Hindi film fraternity hailed the judgment as a victory of democracy and freedom of expression in the country.
A division bench of Justice S.C. Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi directed the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to issue an ‘A’ Certificate to the film, which will hit the screens as scheduled on June 17.
“The court has set aside the 13 cuts demanded by the CBFCs’ Revising Committee and cleared the film for release with one cut — that of the hero shown urinating in public — which we had already agreed to cut earlier,” said lawyer Amit Naik for the film producers who had filed the case.
The film has to carry three disclaimers: “We do not promote the use of drugs”, “We do not promote the use of cuss words”, and “We are not attacking any particular state” — and a reference to Pakistan, which the filmmakers have agreed to comply with.
Soon after the judgment, “Udta Punjab” co-producer Anurag Kashyap, who has been at the forefront of the fight against the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), tweeted: “Thank you to the honourable Judge, thank you all for the faith and support. Time to get back to work.”
Abhishek Chaubey, the film’s director, said he was “massively relieved” and added that the film will hit the screens as scheduled next week.
A story based in Punjab, “Udta Punjab” tells the story of the drug menace in the state.
Assembly elections are due in Punjab next year, and the opposition has made the drug abuse in the state a major campaign issue, upsetting the ruling Akali Dal-BJP coalition.
Following the court order, “Udta Punjab” will now be released without deleting the cuss words, the name “Punjab” in its title and names of other cities in the film, certain scenes like a character injecting drugs, lyrics of a song found objectionable, the use of words like MP, MLA, party worker and the like.
Earlier, observing that “Udta Punjab” did not have anything that questions the country’s sovereignty, the court came down heavily on the CBFC, saying it has no powers to “censor” films under the Cinematograph Act.
The film got mired in controversy when talks emerged that BJP-appointed CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani acted under political pressure to ask for cuts in the film.
Kashyap called Nihalani an “oligarch”, while the latter responded by suggesting that the filmmaker had taken money from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to make “Udta Punjab” to tarnish Punjab’s image. The controversy kept getting bigger with politicos, including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi stepping in to slam the censor board and Nihalani’s take.
On Monday, after the Bombay High Court’s verdict, Kejriwal tweeted: “Udta Punjab judgment is a tight slap on Modi regime’s intolerance.”
The film fraternity, which stood united against censorship, lauded the Bombay High Court for reminding the CBFC that it has no powers to “censor” films, but only to certify them.
Shahid Kapoor, lead actor of “Udta Punjab” called it a “landmark judgment”, while actress Alia Bhatt was joyous that the film will now “fly”.
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt congratulated the Indian Films and Television Directors Association and the Film & Television Producers Guild of India “for spearheading this ‘fight'”; Satish Kaushik commented that “doors of freedom for filmmakers are open now”; and Karan Johar said: “As a filmmaker I feel empowered and relieved.”
“Aligarh” director Hansal Mehta made a poignant point by saying: “”Let the ‘Udta Punjab’ case not be a one-off incidence of collective outrage resulting in a positive outcome… Let the CBFC not exercise its autocracy on hapless and helpless producers who have no means or clout to fight.”