5 times Indian films had to knock on court's door to bypass censor board

Not just Vikram Bhatt, a number of other filmmakers have been on a collision course with the CBFC.

 |  10-minute read |   14-09-2016
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Since long, there has been disagreement between filmmakers and the Central Board of Film Certification on the issue of censorship. Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt's tryst with CBFC is one of many.

Bhatt, who has directed Raaz Reboot said that he wants an explanation from the board related to his movie. Vikram is apparently miffed because the promo of his movie received a U/A certificate for theatres and an A certificate for TV, which is a watered down version. Vikram also went on to say that he is not a crusader, but just a helpless filmmaker.

Raaz Reboot features Emraan Hashmi, Kriti Kharbanda and Gaurav Arora. Produced by Vishesh Films, the film will release on September 16.

Recently, Vikram Bhatt wrote on his Facebook post and poured his heart out over his tryst with CBFC, in which, amongst other things, he tells the reason for him to be tired, feeling un-important, defeated and helpless.

This is what Vikram Bhatt wrote:

"MY TRYST WITH CBFC CONTINUES UNABATED! Beating our chests and crying ourselves hoarse in an attempt to be heard on film censorship seems to be going nowhere. We are just entertainers at the end of the day. We don't come anywhere close to the turnover of big business houses. All we have is some noise value. We would like to imagine that we have some kind of soft power. The truth is that we have no power.

Stifling that one lone voice by giving that voice an agenda is perhaps the way of the establishment to silence that voice. Yet I am alone and with just one agenda, please show me the way here!"

The disgust of Vikarm Bhatt with CBFC is understandable, more so, since Pahlaj Nihalani is enjoying sweeping powers and one who has consistently on his mission to turn the CBFC to "sanskari board".

Recently, the CBFC found itself at the centre of discussion and got attention from online trolls once again, as the certifying board suggested a few cuts for the film Baar Baar Dekho, starring Katrina Kaif and Sidharth Malhotra.

The makers of Baar Baar Dekho were asked to cut two scenes featuring a bra and a reference to Savita Bhabhi.

This is not the first time, they have done so. Kangana Ranaut had revealed once that there was a scene in Queen that showed a bra, which the censor board wanted to be blurred. And they did.

Just a couple of months back, CBFC generated a lot of heat when it locked horns with the maker of the film Udta Punjab and went all out to reinforce its censoring authority rather than a certifying body. But it was only after a complex court battle with the censor board, did Udta Punjab finally hit the cinema screens on June 17.

The film attempted to bring on screen the problem of drug abuse among the youth of Punjab. And this hasn't gone down all too well with people in power.

The film cleared all the major hurdles when the Bombay High Court on June 13 cleared the film with just one cut as opposed to Censor Board's Revising Committee (RC) asking for as many as 89 cuts.

Dismissing the cut, Bombay HC, "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.

On several occasions, the courts of the country have stood by creativity of the filmmakers and have come to their rescue whenever unreasonable restrictions have been imposed upon them.

So, the court could be the ray of hope for Vikram Bhatt, if he chooses to knock on its door.

Let us look at films that have taken to the judicial recourse and got relief:

Film: Had Unhad (2011)

Director: Shabnam Virmani

embed-1_091416061621.jpg Poster of Had Unhad. Photo: YouTube

Storyline: The film is about director's search of Kabir's Ram as opposed to Ram of Hindutva forces. It probed the divides created by religion and nationalism and journeys from India to Pakistan.

CBFC Chairperson: Sharmila Tagore.

Case: Srishti School Of Art, Design & Technology v. The Chairperson, Central Board Of Film Certification & Anr., March 9, 2011.

CBFC's cut: Four cuts ordered.

Court order: Delhi High Court held that the correct approach is to look at the film as a whole and not in its bits before determining whether or not a scene can potentially cause offence, and held the cuts to be unsustainable in law.

It held: "As long as the film provides space for dialogue and discussion of a contentious issue, the policing out of a point of view or a visual merely because it is disagreeable to some cannot be justified."


Film: Aarakshan (2011)

Director: Prakash Jha

embed-2_091416061742.jpg Poster of Aarakshan, a film based on reservation in India.

Storyline: The film based on the controversial policy of caste based reservations in Indian government jobs and educational institutions.

Controversy: The Uttar Pradesh government banned the screening of the film for two months on grounds that it could create law and order problem in the state, this despite CBFC granting a U/A certification to the film.

CBFC Chairperson: Leela Samson.

Case: M/S Prakash Jha Productions & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., August 19, 2011.

Court order: Supreme Court held: "Since the expert body has already found that the aforesaid film could be screened all over the country, we find the opinion of the High Level committee for deletion of some of the scenes/words from the film amounted to exercising power of pre- censorship, which power is not available either to any high-level expert committee of the State or to the State Government. It appears that the State Government through the High Level Committee sought to sit over and override the decision of the Board by proposing deletion of some portion of the film, which power is not vested at all with the State."


Film: Beehad - The Ravine (2013)

Director: Krishna Mishra


Storyline: It is based on the real lives of these dacoits. It exhibits the pathos of these simple village people, who became victim to the social and political system in India, and revolted against the system.

CBFC's cut: CBFC granted an "A" certification with three cuts to the film and "A" certification to few songs and the promos.

The makers of the film had objected to the fact that songs and promos of the movie were sought to be edited, for no apparent reason.

CBFC chairperson: Leela Samson.

Case: Krishna Mishra and Anr. v. Central Board of Film Certification, September 28, 2012.

Court order: The Bombay High Court held that it was mandatory for both the CBFC and the FCAT to record its reasons for suggesting cuts in films. It held: "the requirement of recording reasons is an important safeguard. Where the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)a is involved, any regulation of that right has to be strictly in conformity with the governing principles of law and any restriction of that right must be confined to what is reasonable and subject to the requirements of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Since neither the certifying authority viz. the CBFC nor the Appellate Authority have indicated any reasons, we are of the view that it would be necessary to set aside the order passed by the CBFC and FCAT in respect of the trailer and song."


Film: Vishwaroopam (2013)

Director: Kamal Hasan


Storyline: The film is set in New York City with intermittent flashbacks going back to Afghanistan. An Afghani Al-Qaeda jihadi, his accomplice and their international terror network, plots to attack New York with a "Caesium-bomb".

Controversy: The release of the film was prohibited in Tamil Nadu after Muslim groups protested against it saying it was anti-muslims, even as the CBFC cleared the film for certification. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC were imposed preventing theatre owners across the state from screening the film.

CBFC chairperson: Leela Samson.

Case: Raaj Kamal Film International v. M/S Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners, January 16, 2013.

Court order: Madras High Court stayed prohibitory orders issued by district administrations and paved the way for the screening of the film. Justice K Venkataraman said: "Considering the totality of the circumstances, I am of the considered view that the orders under Section 144 of CrPC are liable to be kept in abeyance for the present."


Film: Sadda Haq (2013)

Director: Mandeep Benipal


Storyline: It is a Punjabi movie that depicted militancy in Punjab in the late 1980s and early 1990s and showing young men of the state rising up and fighting against the police and government system.

Controversy: The film was banned in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi on the ground that it glorified the Khalistan movement and its leaders, therefore its public screening was likely to hurt religious sentiments and cause a breach of the peace.

CBFC chairperson: Leela Samson.

Case: Vital Media v. State of Punjab & Ors, April 26, 2013.

Court order: The Supreme Court constituted a group of four Senior Advocates, led by Fali Nariman, who were entrusted with submitting a report on whether the film was suitable for public screening. The committee dismissed the apprehension of governments of Delhi, Punjab and the Union Territory of Chandigarh that the screening of the film is likely to cause breach of law and order.

"We are of the considered view that suspending the screening of the film on the ground that it is likely to cause a breach of peace calling for pre-emptive action by state authorities is totally inappropriate since it is the duty of the state to maintain law and order and prevent any apprehended breach of peace."

The court ordered the CBFC, which had initially granted a "U" certificate, to re-certify the film with an "A" certificate.


Film: Jai Gangajal (2016)

Director: Prakash Jha


Storyline: It is a sequel of the 2003 crime film Gangaajal. It revolved around a newly appointed senior Inspector who finds herself against very powerful goons and having people from her own department against her.

Controversy: Nitin Navin, MLA from Bankipore Assembly seat, filed a petition in Patna High Court alleging that the film tarnished his image and his constituency.

CBFC also denied the objection raised by the MLA and FCAT also held that the film contained no objectionable content, and granted the film a U/A certificate.

CBFC chairperson: Pahlaj Nihalani.

Case: Vinay Kumar Pappu & Ors. v. The Union of India & Ors, March 2, 2016.

Court order: Patna HC held that it finds no ground to interfere with CBFC's stance in the matter, especially since the movie contained a disclaimer saying that any resemblance is purely coincidental. Accordingly, the writ petition stands dismissed.


Film: Santa Banta Pvt. Ltd (2016)

Director: Akashdeep Sabir


Storyline: The plot is this: Santa (Irani) and Banta (Das) are two good-for-nothing bumbling Punjabis sent to rescue the kidnapped Indian High Commissioner in Fiji. The mission backfires because our heroes are ordinary, fun-loving crackpots rather than competent agents.

Controversy: The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee sought to ban the release of the movie after the CBFC granted certification under the UA category. It was contended that the film depicted the Sikh community in poor light and it could pose a threat to public order.

CBFC chairperson: Pahlaj Nihalani.

Case: Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee v. Union of India & Ors.

Court order: The Delhi HC directed the CBFC to consider whether the U/A certificate issued to the film required reconsideration and left it to consider whether objections held any ground.


Praveen Shekhar Praveen Shekhar

The writer is Associate Producer, TVTN.

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