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‘Mob can’t silence free speech’: SC fines Bengal for shadow ban on film

The producers had alleged that the state government had issued a directive to pull out the movie from almost all theatres on the ground that “that the contents of the film may hurt public sentiments.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2019 13:35 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Kolkata/New Delhi
Trinamool Congress,Supreme Court,Mamata Banerjee
The bench had underlined that no authority could restrict screening of a movie once it is cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification, or the censor board.(ADP File)

The Supreme Court on Thursday fined Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee government Rs 20 lakh for a shadow ban on socio-political satire, ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ that was withdrawn from the state’s theatres a day after its release in February 16.

The move had become a flashpoint for a public debate over artistic freedom in the Trinamool Congress-ruled state and exposed chief minister Mamata Banerjee to attacks from the BJP, which accused her of hypocrisy. Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh had attacked the chief minister for trying to be the champion of freedom of speech during protests against Padmaavat but decided to stop screening the satire. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had then refused to comment on the controversy.

In the Supreme Court on Thursday, the judges expressed serious concern over the “growing intolerance” in the society against artistic freedom.

“Free speech can’t be silenced for the fear of the mob,” a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said.

The top court had last month ordered the state police and administration to ensure unhindered screening of the movie on a petition by the film’s producers. The producers had alleged that the state government had issued a directive to pull out the movie from almost all theatres on the ground that “that the contents of the film may hurt public sentiments”.

The bench had underlined that no authority could restrict screening of a movie once it is cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification, or the censor board.

The money paid by the government would be given to the producer and theatre owners because their right to free speech and expression had been violated, the court said.

“The Supreme Court judgement is more important than the fine because it upholds freedom of speech and expression overall and not just about a particular film,” said Kalyanmoy Chatterjee, one of the producers of the film.

The film described as “a social satire packed with wit and humour” and “extremely relevant for our times” was being screened in 44 halls and 60 screens until it was withdrawn in the afternoon of February 16, just a day after its release.

The producers had lodged a complaint with Eastern India Motion Pictures Association before they moved court.

A number of Kolkata’s intellectuals, film and theatre personalities including octogenarian Dadasaheb Phalke-awardee Soumitra Chatterjee held a free protest meetings on February 19 and March 6 Kolkata against the stoppage of the screening of the film. Protests were also held in Suri (Birbhum district) and Durgapur (West Burdwan district).

At the protest meetings, artistes referred to chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s remarks during the controversy over the screening of Padmaavat in various states that her administration would protect of freedom of expression and the film could be screened here in Bengal.

Producer Kalyanmoy Chatterjee said earlier that he received a letter from the office of the joint commissioner, intelligence branch, Kolkata Police, on February 11, informing him that the office had received inputs “that the contents of the film may hurt public sentiments which may lead to political law and order issues.”

The police requested for a preview for some senior officers prior to its release. Chatterjee turned down the request, arguing that it was beyond the jurisdiction of the police to ask for such a preview.

First Published: Apr 11, 2019 12:30 IST

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