'Udta Punjab' Cleared With Just One Cut, Bombay High Court Lashes Out At Censor Board

13/06/2016 7:34 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Phantom Films

In a landmark judgement, a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court on Monday passed the verdict in favor of Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab and ordered the Pahlaj Nihalani-led Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), also known as the Censor Board, to issue a fresh certificate to the producers within 48 hours.

The Censor Board's Revising Committee (RC) had asked for as many as 89 cuts (it compiled it in a list that made it appear as though there were only 13 wholesome cuts).

udta punjab

The makers -- Balaji Motion Pictures and Phantom films -- had moved court against this order by the CBFC and today was a moment of victory for the film's team as the Bombay HC cleared the film with just one minor cut.

The one cut that the Division Bench led by Justice SC Dharamadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi insisted on retaining was a shot of Shahid Kapoor’s character, a rockstar named Tommy Singh, urinating in front of an audience at a concert.

While the makers said that the shot was important as it’s crucial to illustrate how deranged the character has become owing to narcotics, the court stated that the film has enough scenes that demonstrate the harsh effects of drug abuse on a person’s mental well-being and that this particular shot was “not necessary and should be deleted.”

The makers promptly conceded to this order.

Other than this fleeting shot, the court passed the film as it has been envisaged by its director Abhishek Chaubey, after asking them to add three strong disclaimers.

The disclaimers that will run in the film will say that the makers do not promote the use of drugs (ironically the film itself condemns it), use of expletives and cuss words and neither is it made with the intention to malign a particular state.

About the argument made by CBFC’s counsel that the film has been made to defame Punjab and it hurts the community, the court dismissed it saying that Udta Punjab has no connection to any specific real-life incident and it is clearly based on a fictional character of a rockstar. The court also said that there are elections in 7 other states in early 2017 so the argument of defaming Punjab didn’t make much sense.

Pahlaj Nihalani had accused Udta Punjab’s producers of taking money from the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for making the film as it shows the incompetence of AAP’s rival BJP, which runs the state in allegiance with the Shriomani Akali Dal.

The CBFC also wanted the makers to delete a signboard that said ‘Punjab’ — a shot presumably included establishing the film’s setting.

Dismissing the cut, the court said, “We do not find anything in the script of the movie that affects the sovereignty of the nation. It is for filmmakers to choose the setting of their films as it was the underlying key to creative freedom.”

The court also said that the Cinematograph Act, which forms the backbone of the functioning of the CBFC, doesn’t include the word ‘censor’ in it and thus, the board should not exercise that right.

“The CBFC was not empowered by law to censor films, as the word 'censor' was not included in the Cinematograph Act. The audience is mature enough to decide what it wants to watch,” the court observed.

About the repeated use of expletives by several characters, a portion which the CBFC took a huge objection to, the court noted that the language is used in the context of the film’s setting and all the words can be retained.

Emphasising on how this matter hardly deserved to become such a raging issue, the court said, “So many litigants awaiting justice in the State. Udta Punjab is hardly a cause that should be brought to the highest court of the State.”

It also said that if the disclaimers were in place the makers need not take out some words from the song ‘Chitta Ve’ and the dialogue “Zameen banjar toh aulad kanjar," can be retained too. "The land of Punjab has seen warriors and freedom fighters. They cannot get offended by one dialogue," the court stated.

Udta Punjab is a movie depicting the drug menace based in a place. The board should use its powers as per Constitution and Supreme Court’s directions,” the court observed.

The smiles on the faces of producer Madhu Mantena and director Abhishek Chaubey were worth looking at. They grew wider with each cut dismissed by the court.

About the cut that involved a sequence that shows a character injecting drugs, the court ruled that it isn’t something that justifies or glorifies drug use and that it doesn’t violate the guidelines laid out by Section 5(D).

Emphasising on how this matter hardly deserved to become such a raging issue, the court said, “So many litigants awaiting justice in the State. Udta Punjab is hardly a cause that should be brought to the highest court of the State.”

However, much like a thriller, the high point of the day's proceedings came towards its climax. When the court said that the film needs to be given certification immediately as it is due for release this Friday, the CBFC counsel meekly tried to say they’ll have to verify if the one cut and the disclaimer has been attached.

To this, Justice Dharamadhikari scolded the CBFC, telling them to move ahead with the times and ‘stop acting like a grandma.’ “What is the reason to trouble them unnecessarily? Why is there so much distrust? Will you also show the same distrust towards the court?”

The court then ordered the CBFC to issue an ‘A’ certificate to the producers of Udta Punjab within 48 hours. After a complex battle with the Censor Board, Udta Punjab has cleared all the major roadblocks and will finally arrive in cinemas on June 17, as planned.

An elated Abhishek Chaubey couldn’t contain his excitement when HuffPost India met the director outside the courtroom. “You have no idea what I have gone through in the past one month. This will take some time to sink in. I am surely looking at a sleepless night.”

The director also said that this wasn’t just a victory for Udta Punjab but for the larger cause of freedom of expression and artistic freedom. “It has restored my faith in the judiciary. I am finally relieved now. The film will be presented just the way it was made. It couldn’t get better.”

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