The Bombay high court came down heavily on the censor board on Friday, saying it was “overly critical” of a controversial drug-themed film, but also asked its producers to delete a potentially offensive scene and tone down expletives.
A bench of judges SC Dharmadhikari and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi observed that the Shahid Kapoor-starrer, Udta Punjab, did not prima facie appear to glorify drug abuse, one of the main contentions of the censor board seeking several cuts to the film co-produced by Bollywood showman Anurag Kashyap.
“If the movie is glorifying use of drugs then ban the entire movie, the court said.
The bench said it will pass an order on Monday on the other cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which has triggered a debate on creative freedom amid allegations of political interference.
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 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 what to watch and when to switch off, whether it is television or cinema,” the Bombay high court judges said.
“If they (film producers) produce bad movies, they will suffer in the long run.”
At the same time, the judges asked the producers Phantom Films to delete a scene showing the lead character urinating in public and also told him to tone down expletives and vulgar scenes.
Here is the complete list of cuts demanded by the CBFC (Reader discretion advised)
The court was critical of the CBFC’s direction to delete any reference to Punjab, saying “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.
But the judges agreed with the board’s suggestion of deleting a scene “where a character is shown scratching a body part in a graphic manner”.
“This need not be shown in any form. Similarly, for all the cuss words used, a disclaimer can be displayed. Is it really necessary for a creative person to rely on expletives? You have to tone it down a bit,” justice Dharmadhikari said.
The judges also felt that movies do not attract crowds for their use of abusive language but the long lasting creative impact they make.
“In this age only those movies having a strong content and script line do well and just using expletives will not work for the movie, and hence the CBFC need not be overly critical.”