The drug-themed film Udta Punjab will be released with just one cut, the Bombay high court ruled on Monday, asking the censor board to “stop acting like a grandmother” in a case that has sparked a debate on creative freedom.
The ruling overturned a controversial suggestion by the censor board seeking 13 cuts to the movie which it had deemed offensive to people’s sensibilities and a threat to the country’s integrity.
Besides asking the producers to delete a scene which shows the lead character, a drug-addicted rock star played by Shahid Kapoor, urinating in public, the court also ordered modification of a disclaimer by deleting a reference to Pakistan.
“Do not act like a grandmother. Change as per the times now,” a bench of SC Dharmadhikari and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi said in its order, which was hailed by the film fraternity as a “landmark judgment”.
“The CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) cannot stop creative people abruptly as it may discourage them. This will kill creativity. These days filmmakers are brutal, direct and straightforward. One need not treat them harshly just because of this.”
Set against the backdrop of the northern state that goes to the polls early next year, the film has also triggered a political row with the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) accusing Punjab’s ruling BJP-Shiromani Akali Dali (SAD) of influencing the board’s decision.
The film is scheduled to be released on June 17.
The court said filmmakers should be allowed to choose the backdrop for movies, ruling that the censor board’s “exercise of power should not violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression”.
It overruled the board’s demand that the words “election, MP, parliament, and party” should be cut and said a scene where a character injects himself with drugs could be shown. References to a dog called “Jackie Chan” were also allowed to remain.
The film’s co-producer Anurag Kashyap, at the centre of the fight against the censor board, hailed the verdict in a tweet.
Watch Shahid Kapoor in a song from Udta Punjab
“Thank you to the honourable Judge, thank you all for the faith and support. Time to get back to work (sic).”
Censor board chairman Pahlaj Nihalini, facing allegations of following the government’s agenda in films, said the CBFC “respects” the court’s verdict but hinted that the ruling could open the floodgates for filmmakers moving courts over its decisions.
“It has never been the CBFC’s endeavour to obstruct a film’s creativity or to be a stumbling block to its release.”
Kashyap had called Nihalani an “oligarch”, while the latter responded by suggesting that the filmmaker had taken money from the AAP to make Udta Punjab to tarnish Punjab’s image.
AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal described the verdict in a tweet as “a tight slap on Modi regime’s intolerance”.
Shortly after the ruling, the the Punjab and Haryana high court ordered a special screening of the film on Tuesday before a panel which will ascertain if it was fit for public. The panel will submit a report to the court on Thursday.
India’s censors have a long history of barring movies and cutting scenes, including those deemed too racy or capable of causing religious offence.
The CBFC last year blocked the release of a toned-down version of the erotic Hollywood film “Fifty Shades of Grey” and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience.
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