Indian Court Condemns Film Board for ‘Censoring’ Movie on Drug Abuse

Remix from Screenshots - via the official trailer of UDTA Punjab

Remix from Screenshots – via the official trailer of UDTA Punjab

Update: June 14, 2016: The Mumbai High Court on Monday finally cleared Bollywood film Udta Punjab with one cut and one modification after a week-long row with the censor board. The judge C.S Dharmadikari told the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC): “Do not act like a grandmother. Change as per the times now. The CBFC need not be over-sensitive in the matter of art.”

The movie will be released on 17th June and a certificate will be issued by CBFC according to guidelines recommended by the High court.

This is a major victory for India's film industry which has long complained about censorship affecting freedom of speech and expression.

The original article begins below:

With numerous instances of censorship and bans targeting ‘freedom of expression’, Indian filmmakers are up in arms in an attempt to see Bollywood film ‘Udta Punjab‘ released without major cuts on June 17.

The movie featuring Indian actors Shahid Kapur, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh deals with the Indian state of Punjab‘s drug menace and is directed by director Abhishek Chaubey.

It ran into trouble with the Indian censor board which earlier sought 89 edits before a revision committee settled on 13 cuts.

The film's producers including Phantom films and Balaji telefilms have agreed in court on Friday to cut one scene but are adamant that no other deletions are possible.

The producer of the movie, Anurag Kashyap, lashed out on Twitter against this indiscriminate censoring and dragged the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to court.

Bombay High Court bench led by justice Dharmadikari strongly rebuked CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani and said, “The word censor is not anywhere in the act. Your power is to certify films for public exhibition.”

Journalist Shilpa Rathnam live tweeted from the courtroom as the case was being heard on Friday:

Pahlaj Nihalani, known for his close proximity to the right-wing government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier censored various movies for not being in line with Indian culture and sensibilities.

For example, the CBFC, in 2015, blocked the release of a toned-down version of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

It also labelled two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience which led to huge criticism on social media.

The bench inspected all the cuts suggested by CBFC on an individual basis and suggested only one cut, which the filmmakers agreed to.

Previously, the cuts proscribed included close-up shots of drug consumption, usage of slang language and words such as party workers, Parliament etc.

The court cleared all of these from potential censorship and noted their centrality to the film's theme and subject.

Meanwhile, the state of Punjab goes to the polls in 2017 and numerous political parties in India feel that the ‘row’ was manufactured for the benefit of ruling right-wing parties to stifle voices highlighting the drug problem that has laid waste to an entire generation of youngsters.

Various filmmakers, artists and politicians have condemned the censorship board's move to block the movie's release and labelled it ‘against the creative freedom of an artist’.

The final verdict on the plea challenging the cuts is on Monday.

Gabrielle Parussini writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The debate about the movie has certainly sparked a large wave of publicity: the trailer on YouTube had been watched by more than 12 million people.

Nitin Pai wrote on NDTV:

Indeed, the very fact that you can exert political pressure to prevent the screening of something you find objectionable has opened the floodgates of competitive intolerance. Getting a film censored is almost always an attempt to demonstrate political power, and anything can be mustered to claim hurt sentiments. To rescue our creative industries from the clutches of competitive intolerance, the aesthetic decisions must be depoliticised and professionalised.

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