On the day the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking deletion of “objectionable scenes” from the film Padmavati saying it was yet to be cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Captain Amarinder Singh, chief ministers of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Congress-ruled Punjab respectively, backed protests against the film and slammed what they called “distortion of history”.
But Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of TMC-ruled West Bengal, spoke out against the protests and urged the film industry to “come together and protest in one voice” against the “calculated plan of a political party to destroy the freedom to express ourselves”.
On Monday, Madhya Pradesh became the third BJP-ruled state — after Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — to announce it would not allow the release of the film, with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan describing Padmavati as “Rashtramata”.
Addressing members of Rajput organisations who handed him a memorandum and sought a ban on the film, Chouhan said: “Aitihasik tathyon se khilvaad kar agar Rashtramata Padmavatiji… unke samman ke khilaf… jis film mein drishya dikhaye gaye hai… yeh baat kahi gayee hai… us film ka pradarshan Madhya Pradesh ki dharti par nahi hoga…. rashtra ke apmaan ko yeh desh kabhi sweekar nahi karega.” (If historical facts are being distorted and scenes are being depicted in a film to dishonour Rashtramata Padmavatiji… the release of such a film will not be allowed in Madhya Pradesh… the country will never tolerate this insult to the nation).
Chouhan’s announcement was greeted with shouts of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Rashtramata Padmavati ki jai’. Recalling that he had been reading about Padmavati since childhood, he said: “The country and state will not tolerate this insult of Queen Padmavati’s sacrifice.’’
Declaring that a memorial depicting the bravery of the queen would be built in Madhya Pradesh, the Chief Minister said those excelling in work for the dignity of women would be honoured with the Rashtramata Padmavati award. He also announced the Maharana Pratap award for bravery.
Madhya Pradesh BJP chief Nandkumar Chauhan went a step further, comparing Padmavati director Sanjay Leela Bhansali to a “paapi keeda” (low life). He alleged filmmakers like Bhansali were distorting history to make such films with the sole intention of making money.
In Chandigarh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said “distortion of history” would not be tolerated. He told reporters he had studied history and been to Chittor. Cinematic licence, he said, did not give anyone the right to twist historical facts. “Let me tell you, nobody had the right to distort history… Those feeling hurt by distortion of facts have the right to protest,” he said.
But West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee backed the film and described the protests as an attempt to curb freedom of expression. “The Padmavati controversy is not only unfortunate but also a calculated plan of a political party to destroy the freedom to express ourselves. We condemn this super emergency. All in the film industry must come together and protest in one voice,” she said in a tweet.
In New Delhi, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking deletion of “objectionable scenes” from the film saying the plea itself was premature since Padmavati was yet to get CBFC clearance. It also censored parts of the petition, saying “pleadings in the court are not meant to create any kind of disharmony in society which believes in the concept of unity among diversity”.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said: “We have been apprised that the film has not yet received the certificate from the CBFC… our interference in this writ petition will tantamount to pre-judging, which we are not inclined to do.”
The bench ordered deletion of some paragraphs from the petition and directed that they should not be used anywhere else. Petitioner and advocate M L Sharma alleged that songs of the film had been released without CBFC clearance. “Songs are also part of the movie. How can they release it without the censor board clearing it,” he asked.
This was countered by senior advocate Harish Salve who was appearing for the respondent. Salve said what was released was only the promo. Intervening, CJI Misra said: “Censor board has a definite role. They will see the guidelines… It is their duty… We are on other things… Should the Supreme Court intervene in stopping a movie?”
Sharma claimed there was “character assassination” of Rani Padmavati in the film and the board would not go into those aspects. “When censor board doesn’t take any action, then who will,” he asked.
Explaining how the CBFC certifies a film, CJI Misra said: “How they are going to decide, is it going to be directed in this manner?… censor board has a statutory duty… Can this court injunct a statutory body not to exercise its statutory right?”
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During the hearing, the court also briefly referred to its November 16 order dismissing a petition that sought a stay on the release of a film ‘An Insignificant Man’ made on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. But it did not elaborate. In that order, the bench had said that freedom of speech and expression are “sacrosanct” and “should not be ordinarily interfered with”.
(With ENS from Chandigarh, Kolkata)