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Can’t ban smoking in films,that’s censorship: Delhi High Court

Undesirability of the act of smoking has nothing to do with the right of the director as an artist to express what he desires: Justice S K Kaul

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi |
January 24, 2009 1:23:53 am

Last January,Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss urged Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to take after south superstar Rajnikant,who refuses to smoke onscreen.

The Delhi High Court today disagreed with the minister when it said that cinema depicts “real-life situations” and is not a “moral lecture” or a medium to paint an “ideal world” not reflective of the “negative appeals of our society”.

“A cinematographic film must reflect the realities of life. Smoking is undesirable,but it exists and is not banned by law,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said lifting a two-year old ban on smoking in films.

The judge expressed his displeasure at the attitude of “multifarious authorities who breathed down the necks of film directors indulging in creative art”.

He termed “any form of censorship” as a “deviation” which is “highly subjective and essentially mindless”. He said the sole purpose of censorship was to make “inroads in the freedom of expression in an art form.”

Justice Kaul was acting as an umpire judge after a split verdict given by a Division Bench last year on a petition moved by film director Mahesh Bhatt challenging a government notification issued in October 2006 banning the depiction of smoking in films. The will to stop smoking has to come from “within” a person rather in the form of a law forcing a person to give up on the habit,said Justice Kaul

“People smoke,just as people drive,drink and eat,” the judge stated in his 50-page judgment. He said that depiction of a person smoking in a movie is part of “cinematographic history”.

“The requirements of art and literature,including cinematographic films,have to be dealt with on a separate pedestal. This is so as what is often represented (in films) is not what must exist in an ideal world,but ground realities which are far removed from an ideal position,” Justice Kaul said.

He found it necessary that a much wider interplay is required to be given in tools of communication “where at times hard ground realities are thrown at the public to wake them from their slumber”.

“A film director has to reflect real life position where smoking exists. The undesirability of the act of smoking has nothing to do with the right of the director as an artist to express what he so desires,” Justice Kaul explained.

Enough safeguards are already in place in the Censor Board guidelines in order to discourage any efforts by film makers to justify or glamorise smoking.

But on the other hand,if the depiction of smoking is a “compulsion of the script” and is supported by a “strong editorial justification”,the ban would be violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech,” the court drew the line for the government.

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