SC refuses to stay the release of Modi biopic

We don’t know what the film is “seeking to depict,” says CJI-led Bench

Updated - April 09, 2019 12:37 pm IST

Published - April 08, 2019 11:45 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Actor Vivek Oberoi at the trailer launch of the biopic PM Narendra Modi

Actor Vivek Oberoi at the trailer launch of the biopic PM Narendra Modi

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene in the release of the film, Prime Minister Narendra Modi , alleged to be a “blatant propaganda,” dressed up as a work of art, in violation of the poll code.

A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said the court could not step in unless it was clear about what the film was “seeking to depict” and what the petitioner, Congress activist Aman Panwar, was objecting to. “We have not seen the film. We do not know the contents... How can we order anything without knowing what we are ordering about,” Chief Justice Gogoi asked senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, who represents Mr. Panwar.

Mr. Singhvi said the film had not yet been released, and the only insight into its theme was the publicity and trailers. “There has been a publicity blitzkrieg for the past 40 days. This is a direct attack on the Basic Structure of the Constitution which guarantees free and fair elections. So far nobody has seen the film, but once it is released, how can it be stopped? Just consider the ramifications,” Mr. Singhvi said.

The Bench then asked Mr. Panwar to file an application, if possible by Monday, after watching the film. The application should highlight the parts he found objectionable and why he found it a violation of the poll code.

Reacting to this suggestion, Mr. Singhvi said the court should then direct the film-makers to provide Mr. Panwar with a copy of the movie. But the court refused. “We fail to see how such a direction can be passed by this court,” Chief Justice Gogoi responded.

The film is set to release on April 11, when the first phase of voting will start.

Mr. Panwar said the film was not an innocuous work of art as claimed by the producers, the director and lead actor Vivek Oberoi. In fact, the petition said, Prasoon Joshi, chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, was listed as one of the artists who had worked on the film.

It said all four producers were card-carrying BJP members. Two of them had held posts in the party organisation. The fourth producer was a participant in Vibrant Gujarat, a biennial investors’ summit organised by the Gujarat government, and had recently signed, through his company, an MoU with the BJP government in the State for a reported sum of ₹177 crore.

BJP leaders had a direct association with the film: the Maharashtra Chief Minister released the first poster; and president Amit Shah was to release similar promotional material, the petition said.

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