HC Pulls up CBFC for Acting as ‘Grandmother’, Clears Udta Punjab with One Cut

The court, which was hearing a petition filed by Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films challenging the CBFC order, strongly criticised the board for curbing a creative person’s work.

Anurag Kashyap and the Udta Punjab team at the Indian Film & Television Directors' Association press conference held on June 8. Credit: Youtube

Anurag Kashyap and the Udta Punjab team at the Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association press conference held on June 8. Credit: Youtube

Mumbai: The Bombay high court on June 13 cleared the decks for the release of Udta Punjab, whose makers were locked in a dispute with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), after it ordered that a urination scene be deleted and a revised disclaimer be displayed.

The court also criticised the CBFC and asked it not to act like a “grandmother” and change with times.

A division bench of Justices S. C. Dharmadhikari and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi directed the CBFC to certify the drug-themed film within 48 hours so that the makers could release it on its scheduled date – June 17. “Barring the deletion of the urination scene as directed by the board and modification of the disclaimer, the June 6 order passed by the CBFC’s revising committee directing for a total of 13 changes in the movie is quashed and set aside,” the court said.

The bench, however, refused to stay its order on a plea, made by CBFC counsel Advait Sethna, to enable the board to appeal against the clearance of the film in the Supreme Court, saying the filmmakers had already spent a lot on the movie, its promotion and distribution.

The court, which was hearing a petition filed by Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films challenging the CBFC order, strongly criticised the CBFC for curbing a creative person’s work. “Do not act like a grandmother. Change as per the times. The CBFC need not be over-sensitive in the matter of art. The CBFC 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,” the court said.

The court further noted that the CBFC is not empowered by law to censor films, as the word censor is not included in the Cinematograph Act. “Censor in common parlance means to certify a movie. Therefore, if by law the board is empowered to make changes, cuts, or deletions, this power of the CBFC must be consistently in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Supreme Court directions,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.

As per the revised disclaimer, the Udta Punjab makers will have to delete a reference to Pakistan. They will also have to make additions to the disclaimer to the effect that the movie, its characters and the filmmakers do not promote the use of drugs and abusive language, and that the film is only attempting to depict the reality of drug abuse.

On cutting out the urination scene, Justice Dharmadhikari said, “The CBFC is justified in directing deletion of the scene as the shot was unnecessary given the backdrop and the theme of the movie. Instead of this particular scene, the filmmaker could have taken recourse to other methods to depict the same.”

The court noted that it had read the film’s script and did not find anything in it that showed Punjab in bad light or affected the sovereignty, integrity or security of India. “It is undisputed that the CBFC possesses powers to call for cuts, changes, deletions in a movie while certifying it. These powers come into play if the film affects the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, foreign relations, public order, and or is likely to incite commission of an offence. There is a heavy burden on the authority to show that the restrictions imposed are reasonable,” the bench observed.

The judges were of the opinion that, in the present case, the CBFC-imposed restrictions were not correct. The movie had to be seen as a whole and it was not permissible to take the characters, scenes and songs in isolation and out of context, the judges said. “It is open for a creative person to select the background, setting and accordingly weave the story. It is entirely on the creative person to choose the setting, pattern, underlying theme and storyline,” the court said.

“Creative freedom allows use of certain words as per the choice of the filmmaker. Nobody can dictate to him as to how the movie should be made or its content,” the court said.

The bench said it was in agreement with the petitioners that there was an increasing menace of drug abuse among the youth in Punjab. “The film is meant for adult viewing. If a maker chooses this way of depicting the movie and a subject, then it is not for anybody to restrict it. Like the CBFC, even we would be happy if better words were coined and used by the filmmaker,” the judges said.

The court said one must not forget that the movie was a work of fiction.

On the board’s direction to the movie makers to delete all scenes where expletives have been used, the court said that the dialogues had to be seen wholly and not in isolation.

“Such blanket deletion without reference to the theme and subject of the film is bound to interfere with the creative freedom of the petitioner. The petitioners have used such language as they feel that people from that particular strata of society used such language ordinarily,” the court said.

The court also noted that with the passage of time, filmmakers will realise that their films will not sell only because of such words. “But this realisation should happen on their own. The vocabulary used in a film, its utility is best left to the audience to decide,” the court observed.

On deletion of the use of the words, “election, MP, MLA, parliament, party worker and Punjab”, the court said, “These are general words and the film does not talk about any particular person or party. It is common knowledge that elections are round the corner in several states. Udta Punjab is not made keeping in mind the upcoming elections in Punjab or with any political propaganda.”

The high court also said there was no justification for deleting a scene from the movie that showed signboards with Punjab, Jalandhar and Amritsar written on them, as directed by the CBFC.

“It is surprising that the board wants the signpost scene deleted, but has no issues with the title of the movie having the word Punjab,” the court said.

The high court, while setting aside the deletion of a scene where a character in the movie is injecting drugs, said, “This is just a fleeting scene and we have already said that the movie is not encouraging or glamorising use of drugs.”

“Similarly, a scene in a song where a person is shown scratching himself is also just a passing shot and need not be removed. It does not show anyone in bad light and is not vulgar or obscene,” it said.

On deletion of a dialogue “Zameen banjar te aulad kanjar”, the court said, “This dialogue does not necessarily imply that the land of Punjab is infertile and that nothing useful can be found growing in them. It is a known fact that Punjab is a land of hard working and toiling farmers.”