Stop acting like a 'grandmother', India court tells censor

A poster of the Bollywood film Udta Punjab in Mumbai.
A poster of the Bollywood film Udta Punjab in Mumbai.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI • A top court told India's film censor board on Monday not to act "like a grandmother" and overturned a controversial demand by the notoriously strict body for 13 cuts to a film depicting drug addiction.

The makers of Udta Punjab, a Bollywood movie set in Punjab, went to the court after the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) demanded 13 cuts and said all mention of the northern state should be removed, including from the title.

Punjab is due to hold local elections next year. Critics alleged that the board was censoring the movie to avoid embarrassing the state government.

On Monday, the Bombay High Court, Mumbai's highest judicial authority, ordered the board to clear the film with just one cut. It is due for release on Friday.

"The CBFC should issue a fresh certificate within two days with the cut suggested by this court," Justice C.S Dharmadhikari said, ruling that a scene - showing the film's protagonist, a rock star, urinating into the crowd at a concert - be removed.

"Do not act like a grandmother. Change as per the times now. The CBFC need not be over-sensitive in the matter of art. The CBFC cannot stop creative people abruptly as it may discourage them," he added.

India's censors have a long history of barring movies and cutting scenes, including those deemed too racy or capable of causing religious offence.

The board last year blocked the release of a toned-down version of Fifty Shades Of Grey (2015) and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience. Film-makers accuse the censors of intolerance.

The Bombay High Court said film-makers should be allowed to choose the backdrop for movies, ruling that the board's "exercise of power should not violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression".

It overruled the board's demand that the words "election, MP, parliament, and party" should be cut and said a scene where a character injects himself with drugs could be shown.

References to a dog called Jackie Chan will also be allowed to remain.

"I'm terribly pleased and relieved with the verdict," the film's director Abhishek Chaubey told reporters outside the court, adding that he hoped it would force the board to change its approach.

In a rare display of unity, Bollywood had rallied behind Udta Punjab co-producer Anurag Kashyap and the film's cast to protest attempts by censor chief Pahlaj Nihalani to sanitise art and popular culture.

"I'm deeply stressed as a film- maker and I know I'm not alone. The censorship crisis, the moral policing, the politics of it has most of us on edge," producer Karan Johar wrote in a column for news channel NDTV's website before the court's ruling.

In a series of tweets last week, Kashyap called Nihalani an "oligarch" and compared India with reclusive North Korea.

Nihalani has said the film defamed Punjab and he challenged its claim that 70 per cent of its population was involved in substance abuse.

Several Bollywood actors and directors praised the court's decision.

"Landmark judgement by the honourable Bombay High Court on #UdtaPunjab. Great victory for the film-makers," film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar wrote on Twitter.

"Thank U Judiciary for giving back the makers of Indian Cinema their right to express," tweeted film- maker and dissenting board member Ashoke Pandit.

Udta Punjab stars Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Stop acting like a 'grandmother', India court tells censor'. Print Edition | Subscribe