The court’s order to the censor board to clear the film with just one cut is an occasion for celebration but also further concern and action
The Bombay high court’s order to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to clear the film Udta Punjab with just one cut is an occasion for celebration but also further concern and action, say filmmakers and other members of the artistic community.
The court’s order has ended a controversy that began last month and reached its climax when the CBFC directed the filmmakers to remove all mention of Punjab and politics from the film. Udta Punjab, directed by Abhishek Chaubey and co-produced by Phantom Films and Balaji Motion Pictures, deals with Punjab’s drug problem.
Speaking to The Wire, ex-chairperson of the CBFC Leela Samson, who resigned from her post in March 2015, over the release of the film MSG-Messenger of God, called the court’s order “wonderful”.
But, she hastened to add, “although a film is not a small thing, in a sense, this is only one film” and this has happened “time and again: there is a fight and then it is forgotten”. She stressed that “a permanent solution is needed” and that the film industry, not just Bollywood but also India’s regional industries and numerous film federations, must “come together to demand that”. This would be a good time for the industry to become proactive and younger filmmakers must take the lead. “The country must move into a new phase,” she said.
Hansal Mehta, director of Aligarh (2015) and National Film Award recipient, told The Wire that while the court’s decision to uphold the constitutional right of artistic freedom is “of course a cause for happiness”, the fact that a producer should have to go to the courts or even the tribunal at all is “disturbing”.
He pointed out that the producers of a big film like Udta Punjab can afford good lawyers and to go to court. That is why, he said, the industry and the media rallied to their cause and supported them. However, “not every filmmaker is able to afford lawyers and the court, or garner that kind of overwhelming support” – and that is precisely when “the machinery become tyrannical, that is when the people in power exert their clout”. Mehta questioned: “When tomorrow a small, new director or producer faces a similar problem, how will his artistic freedom be protected?”
Despite this victory, said Mehta, the CBFC is still at fault and “flaws in its functioning and the appointment of office bearers should not be overlooked”.
“I am not rejoicing yet,” he said, “I want to see what the information and broadcasting ministry makes of this decision and what they do to revamp the board”.
Abhay Kumar, an independent filmmaker who is currently holding screenings of his documentary about life in one of India’s top medical colleges, Placebo, echoed Mehta’s sentiments when he said that while he “welcomes [the court’s decision] with open arms”, he hopes that the decision will “pave the way for the censor board to do only what it is mandated to do and stop behaving autocratically”.
In issuing its order, the high court observed: “Creative freedom should not be unnecessarily curbed; nobody can dictate to a filmmaker about the content of his film… CBFC [is] not empowered by law to censor films as the word censor is not included in the Cinematograph Act.”