Jan 182018

Sanjay Leela Bhansali breathes free as the Supreme Court clears release of the historical drama using the film Aarakshan as precedent; Bollywood veterans critique two-faced government

Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat
Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat

The Supreme Court this morning cleared Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial period drama, Padmaavat, by suspending the ban orders of six states – Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. A bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud considered the submission of the counsel of Viacom 18 and other producers of the film that the plea be heard urgently as the movie was set for all-India release on January 25.

The court said it is the duty of states to maintain law and order and that the creative content is an inseparable aspect of article 19 (1), freedom of speech and expression. CJI Dipak Misra said in his comments that the states can take a call in case violence erupts after release, but cannot preempt reaction or ban a film before release. The bench was hearing a writ petition filed by Agarwal Law Associates on behalf of Viacom 18 and Bhansali Productions, seeking the quashing of a ban on the release of the film.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Sanjay Leela Bhansali

The producers moved the top court through senior lawyer Harish Salve and advocate Mahesh Agarwal and submitted, in the petition, that the movie has undergone changes including in its title and the Ghoomar song as suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). They cited the example of Prakash Jha’s controversial 2011 film, Aarakshan, which looked at caste reservation in education.

It was considered anti-Dalit and banned across several states, before the SC cleared its release. Using that as a precedent, the legal team argued that once the Censor Board has certified a movie, no state can ban it. Salve said, “If states are banning a film, then it [ban] is destroying [the] federal structure. It is a serious matter. If somebody has a problem, then he or she can approach the appellate tribunal for relief. [The] state can’t touch the content of a film.”

A source close to the production house told mid-day, “The Supreme Court has passed an order upholding the freedom of speech and directing the states to maintain law and order relying on Prakash Jha’s case of Aarakshan. This is another landmark case, where the Apex court has upheld freedom of speech and expression again, recognising that the state is duty bound to maintain law and order when the CBFC has certified a film. The principle laid down in the case of Aarakshan has been upheld.”

Jan 25
Day the film will finally release

– With inputs from Bharati Dubey, Sonil Dedhia and Mohar Basu

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