Last year, the Bombay High Court handed out a lesson of sorts to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). It admonished the CBFC for acting like a “grandmother” and asked it not to interfere with the creative processes of filmmakers. The court’s order that allowed the film Udta Punjab to run with just one cut was an assurance to movie-makers — and artists at large — that they need not succumb to the view that hurt sentiments, real and manufactured, are a basis for
ordering extensive cuts in a film. But the Bombay High Court, it seems, has a different view when it comes to lawyers and courts. On Monday, the Aurangabad bench of the court said the contents of the Bollywood movie, Jolly LLB 2, were “defamatory” to the lawyers profession and were tantamount to “contempt of court”. Meanwhile, a metropolitan court in Jaipur has summoned the film’s director Subhash Kapoor and actors Akshay Kumar and Annu Kapoor in response to a petition accusing them of ridiculing the lawyer community. While that case is slated for hearing on March 3, it’s disappointing that the Bombay High Court has assumed the role of a super censor and ordered cuts in Jolly LLB 2. The director of the film has agreed to comply.
These are times suffused with offended sentiments. They range from religious and community sentiments — the examples are too many — to those that corporates and public figures wear on their sleeves. In 2012, for instance, the footwear manufacturing biggie, Bata, took umbrage at a song in the film Chakravyuh; more recently, the film star Rajinikanth took offence at a 2014 film then titled Main Hoon Rajinikanth. An imagined community of emotional victimhood becomes an excuse to threaten artistic and cultural freedoms. Lobbies threaten a film’s release even after it has been cleared by the CBFC. Most times, when they have been drawn into such cases, the courts have tried to perform a balancing act. The makers of the film Chakravyuh, for example, were asked to add a disclaimer when the song that caused consternation to Bata was screened. The director of Main Hoon Rajnikanth was asked to alter the title of his film, but the film’s content was left untouched.
The Udta Punjab verdict, though, was a landmark of sorts. It was an attempt at understanding the impulses of filmmakers who may have a candid and forthright manner of storytelling. That the verdict was directed at the CBFC signaled that the board could discharge its duties without fear of being overwhelmed by vigilantes. But by assuming the censor board’s mantle in the Jolly LLB 2 case, the court has sent the wrong message at a time when “hurt feelings” have become a cover for aggressive vigilantism of several kinds.