You would think that our dear old Censor Board (officially called the Central Board of Film Certification) would recognise the irony of censoring a film that deals with the issue of free speech.
But that's exactly what the CBFC did with the multiple-award-winning courtroom drama 'Court', set to release across India on Friday, April 17. According to the film's makers, the film — which takes a long, hard look at the Indian judiciary through the trial of a folk singer — will release with two lines muted out. Aside from that, the film's makers have also been asked to begin the film with a disclaimer that states that every political party, personality, and organisation named in the film is fictional — with each instance being named individually in said disclaimer.
One of the cuts is somewhat understandable, given the board's dislike for 'bad language'. In a scene from the movie depicting a Marathi-language play in progress, a character says, "मनात आणलं ना, मराठी माणूस कोणाची हि आय-माय एक करू शकतो. कोणाची हि आय-माय काढू शकतो," which translates to "But if pushed, this Marathi man can easily show them who is the boss in this city." The offending slur, in this case, is the term 'आय-माय' (aai-mai) which translates to 'maa-behen' (mother-sister).
However, the second cut is perplexing. In a scene that shows three lawyers having a discussion, one character says, "Madam ला नविन नविन चेहरे पहायचे आहेत. Judge बनवा त्यांना." This translates to: "Madam wants to see new faces everyday. Let's make her a judge soon." This seems to imply that an advocate with career goals is an objectionable thing to depict on screen.
It is important to note that the censor screening of 'Court' took place in September 2014, shortly after the film premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival, which means that the board that made this decision was headed by Leela Samson, not Pahlaj Nihalani, as one might naturally assume. The film's makers, Zoo Entertainment Pvt Ltd, did not push the matter further and agreed to the two cuts as well as the disclaimer.
Chaitanya Tamhane, director of the film, told HuffPost India that they chose not to fight the board's decision to avoid unnecessary trouble since the film, which highlights the issue of freedom of speech and is critical of the judiciary, touches on sensitive topics. "We were afraid that going to the revising committee [the next step] might draw attention to some of the script's stronger statements and that the whole film might be seen as 'seditious'," he said.
They had the option to replace the offending lines with new ones, but Tamhane says that they decided to highlight the irony of an anti-censorship film being censored. "Keeping the cuts will jar audiences and make it look quite obvious that the film has been censored," he said. "We thought it would be a good way of making a cheeky statement against their action."
Furthermore, even after carrying out the two suggested cuts, 'Court' was awarded a U/A certificate, a move that the film's actor-producer Vivek Gomber calls "hilarious". "There is no abusive language, no violence, no sex, no nudity, and no tobacco use in the film," he said. "I do drink wine in one scene, though. Perhaps that was the problem? I don't know."