The Supreme Court Monday asked the Election Commission to watch the film PM Narendra Modi, a biopic on the Prime Minister, and decide whether its public screening should now be allowed. The court was hearing a plea by the filmmakers against the EC’s decision to stall the movie’s screening for the period that the Model Code of Conduct for the general elections was in force.
“Without commenting on merits of the order of the Election Commission, at this stage, we would like the Election Commission or its authorised representative to view the movie and thereafter consider the matter of public screening of the movie once again,” a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogol and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna ordered.
The bench asked the EC counsel whether the poll panel had seen the movie, only to be told that “the Election Commission or its representative(s) had no occasion to watch the movie or a substantial part of it and the impugned order has been passed upon viewing the short duration trailer”.
The court asked the EC to do this by April 19 and inform about its decision to the court in a sealed cover. It also asked the EC to consider any request for audience by the filmmaker or representative and fixed April 22 to hear the matter next.
On April 10, the poll panel invoked its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose a ban on public screening of “any biopic material in the nature of biography/ hagiography” which could serve the interest of a political party or candidate while the Model Code of Conduct is in force.
This led to stalling of the release of the biopic and also stopped the screening of two more biopics — Lakshmi’s NTR’ on TDP founder N T Rama Rao and Udyama Simham on Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s struggle for the separate state of Telangana.
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Modi’s biopic was scheduled to be released on April 11. The EC order came a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition, seeking a stay on the release of ‘PM Narendra Modi’, and left it to the EC to decide “whether the film will tilt the electoral balance in favour of any political party”.
The EC noted in its order that political content like biopics pose a “serious threat to the level playing field as it may create an impression of truthfulness of such content being shown through television/ cinema/ Internet-based entertainment programmes/ social media”.
The petitioners sought to know if “once the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has certified a film, is any other authority permitted to interfere with the release of the same?”
The plea further raised questions pertaining to freedom of speech, the right to livelihood, and the extent to which such rights can be curtailed when the Model Code of Conduct is in place.
The petitioners said that on March 25, the EC “had also asked the CBFC to take note of the MCC while granting certification to the said film” and accordingly, “the film was certified by CBFC after taking into account the MCC as suggested by Election Commission”.