"The courts should be extremely slow in passing any kind of restraint or order stopping a creative man from writing drama, a book, philosophy or projecting his thoughts in a film or theatre art."
This is what a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had to say as it disposed of a petition filed by Nachiketa Walhekar, a man who allegedly threw ink at Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in 2013.
Walhekar, through counsel, sought a stay on the release of the film An Insignificant Man, based on the life of Kejriwal. His counsel argued that the film portrayed Kejriwal as a victim, and hence violated Walhekar's right to a fair trial.
"They have betrayed the people of this country. They have betrayed Annaji. They have betrayed the Jan Lokpal movement," Walhekar had said at that time. Walhekar claimed that he has been depicted as a convict in the movie despite the fact that trial in that matter was still pending, according to PTI.
"The incident happened in 2013. It was alleged that the petitioner had thrown the ink on Kejriwal. Trial is still pending. How can they show me as a convict of throwing ink at Kejriwal," Walhekar's lawyer argued.
"It is worthy to mention that freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct and the said right should not be ordinarily interfered with."
His counsel told the bench, also comprising justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, that the film contains a video clip, which was originally shown by media, pertaining to him and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) should not have granted a certificate to the movie for its release.
"It is worthy to mention that freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct and the said right should not be ordinarily interfered with," the bench said.
It said when the CBFC has granted a certificate and only something with regard to the petitioner, which was shown in the media, was being reflected in the movie, "this court should restrain itself in not entertaining the writ petition or granting injunction".
"Be it noted, a film or a drama or a novel or a book is a creation of art. An artist has his own freedom to express himself in a manner which is not prohibited in law and such prohibitions are not read by implication to crucify the rights of expressive mind," the bench said.
It said that "human history" records that there were many authors, who expressed their thoughts according to the choice of their words, phrases, expressions and also created characters who may look absolutely different than an ordinary man would conceive of.
"A thought provoking film should never mean that it has to be didactic or in any way puritanical. It can be expressive and provoking the conscious or the sub-conscious thoughts of the viewer. If there has to be any limitation, that has to be as per the prescription in law."
"A thought provoking film should never mean that it has to be didactic or in any way puritanical. It can be expressive and provoking the conscious or the sub-conscious thoughts of the viewer. If there has to be any limitation, that has to be as per the prescription in law," it noted in its order.
Regarding the petitioner's apprehension that the documentary film would be used as an evidence during the trial of the case, the bench said it cannot be commented upon as it would be for trial court to adjudge under the Evidence Act.
The bench, however, said that prohibiting exhibition of a documentary or a film was "very serious" and courts should be very slow in interfering with it. It said that only the courts have the right to convict a person of any crime.
"Everyday, debate takes place in this court and people write about it as they understand. We do not gag them. Pre- censorship by courts should not be done," the bench said.
The court's ruling comes at a crucial time for cinematic freedom.
The Shri Rajput Karni Sena, protesting Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film Padmavati has called for a country-wide bandh on 1 December. Mahipal Singh Makrana of Karni Sena threatened to maim Deepika Padukone, the actress who plays the titular role in the period drama.
Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha: Mahipal Singh Makrana of Rajput Karni Sena in a self-made video #Padmavatipic.twitter.com/82AWKGO7IU— ANI (@ANI) November 16, 2017
Recently, filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh resigned from his post of jury chairperson to register his protest against interference by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry at film festivals.
The I&B Ministry allegedly got two films — Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Sexy Durga (which was re-titled S Durga so it could play at the Mumbai Film Festival) and Ravi Jadhav's Nude — dropped from the selection of the International Film Festival of India, slated to take place in Panjim from November 20. The films were dropped despite being selected by the 13-member IFFI jury, a committee ironically formed by the Ministry itself.
(With inputs from agencies)