The Bombay high court is on Monday expected to pass its order regarding the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)’s suggested cuts to Udta Punjab, a film centred around the drug problem in Punjab that has stoked both a political and artistic debate.
Makers of the film, Phantom Films, had challenged some of the CBFC’s suggested cuts in the high court, which included deleting references to Punjab, two graphically vulgar scenes and toning down an expletive-laden script.
The CBFC had finally cleared the film on Sunday with 13 cuts under category ‘A’, board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani said, saying “its job is now over”.
“It is now up to the producer to go to the court or tribunal. We will implement the order,” Nihalani said.
The CBFC’s clearance came after the Bombay high court came down heavily on the board, saying it was “overly critical” of the controversial drug-themed film.
A bench of judges, SC Dharmadhikari and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi, observed that Udta Punjab, prima facie, did not appear to glorify drug abuse, one of the main contentions of the censor board based on which it sought multiple cuts to the film co-produced by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap.
“If the movie is glorifying use of drugs, then ban the entire movie,” the court said.
Regarding deleting the references to Punjab, it noted that “the crux of the film will be lost”.
However, at the same time, the court asked producers to delete a potentially offensive scene and tone down the use of expletives.
The filmmakers agreed to cut out a scene that showed a man urinating on a crowd on the court’s insistence. Another which showed a man scratching himself vulgarly is also being axed.
Assembly elections are due in Punjab early next year and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress have accused the BJP of influencing the censor board to hide the menace of drug abuse that has allegedly crippled a generation in the state. The BJP is a partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab’s ruling alliance.
The controversy has seen almost all of Bollywood come out to oppose the notoriously sensitive censor board, which earlier blocked the release of a toned-down version of Fifty Shades of Grey last year and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience.
“Everybody has a choice. Let (the) people decide whether a movie is good or bad… Handover the remote to people… let them decide, whether it is television or cinema.. You have the power of certifying films for public exhibition… The word censor does not appear anywhere in the (Cinematograph) Act, except in your mind,” the Bombay high court judges said.
“If they (film producers) produce bad movies, they will suffer in the long run,” they added.
The film stars Shahid Kapoor in one of the lead roles, with Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh.
Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, it is tentatively scheduled for release on June 17.
“I am not PM Modi’s chamcha”
As the debate raged, Kashyap had accused Nihalani of being “dicatatorial” and controlling the CBFC. However, the board chairman dismissed the allegations, saying, “those call me cheap are themselves ‘ghatia’ (lowly)”.
Nihalani clarified that he never called himself as “chamcha” (sycophant) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“There is nothing wrong in admiring the Prime Minister. I never said (I am) a chamcha,” he said.
(With inputs from PTI)