The Bombay High Court Thursday said that Bollywood movie Udta Punjab “wants to save people” from drugs and “has not been made with a view to malign the state or its people”.
It called the “hue and cry” surrounding 13 cuts suggested by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to the film, and the decision of the production house to challenge the suggested cuts, “obnoxious”.
The court also refused to accept the rationale behind one of the suggested cuts — that a Punjab signboard appearing at the beginning of the movie be removed as it affects the sovereignty of the country.
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Stating that the court would ensure drugs are denounced, Justice S C Dharmadhikari said, “It is our prerogative that the movie never praises drugs. It is still going to say that drugs are bad. The movie wants to save people from this and has not been made with a view to malign the state or its people.”
A division bench of Justice Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi were hearing a plea filed by Anurag Kashyap’s production house, Phantom Films, challenging the cuts suggested by the censor board.
While the board has clarified that the reference to “Punjab” in the title is not an issue, the High Court asked why a Punjab signboard should be a cause for concern.
The petitioner’s senior counsel, Ravi Kadam, had objected to the cut on the ground that the movie depicts the illegal movement of drugs from Pakistan to Punjab through porous borders.
“Displaying a signboard, which is a dividing line between two countries, will affect the sovereignty of the country is what you are saying. How do you see this statutory base? It is not as if such a depiction is affecting sovereignty badly,” said Justice Dharmadhikari, adding that the bench will not support removing the signboard.
Asking the board to explain its reasoning, the judge also noted that such signboards are shown in several movies. “War films have been made in our country. The country is known to have gone through wars and this is historically established and borders have been shown. The movie is not making a reference to a foreign country,” he added.
“You are saying don’t show a board. What is the logical reasoning? Is it provocative and are you suggesting it is offensive?” the bench asked.
Appearing for the board, lawyer Advait Sethna said he had not seen the movie and did not know the manner in which the signboard might be depicted. “It could have to do with drugs and some powder,” he said.
“The camera is there (for) under three minutes. People sometimes don’t even know what the film is about,” the court pointed out.
Saying that other states have been shown in a worse light, the court said, “In Go Goa Gone and Bombay to Goa, people are shown going to Goa for added flavour. Goa is shown as a place for women and wine,” said the court. But Sethna argued that they did not want Punjab to be depicted as a state known for drugs.
Saying that the younger generation wants to reflect the issue to a mature audience, the court said, “The title of the film has Punjab. It depicts a story of the state and the people. For one visual, you cannot delete an entire scene… It is a duty…to expose the problem. As if the state is only known for drugs and nothing else.”
It also questioned the controversy around the movie, saying, “It is not that nobody has made a reference to this in the past and that the drug menace has not been a subject matter of any celluloid film.”
The court also said removing words such as election, MLA and MP did not make sense. “In our times, there were names with these words in it like Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avatar,” Justice Dharmadhikari said, asserting that none of these words could be used to malign people or the state.
The court asked Kadam if the petitioners were objecting to all 13 suggested cuts, to which he said yes.
The arguments on other cuts suggested by the board will be taken up by the court on Friday.