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Why banning 'MSG' could be wrong

GURGAON, HARYANA, 16/01/2015: Supporters wearing the T shirt duing a press conference regarding the release of the movie- Messanger of God by Shant Gurmeet Ram Rahim, in Gurgaon on January 16, 2015. Photo: Manoj Kumar   | Photo Credit: Manoj Kumar

The purpose of any film certification process is to ensure that there is a balance between freedom of expression and what is appropriate for society at large. In this case, which side was right about how to deal with The Messenger of God (MSG)?

The Constitution grants every individual the right to freedom of expression with some restrictions. For films, those restrictions are governed by the Cinematography Act, 1952, which lays down conditions under which a film, or any part, cannot be shown to the public: if it affects “the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.”

“Any part” is the operative word here. Legal experts say there is the potential to either delete offensive portions or play them with disclaimers. But if a film is to be banned completely then the censor Board has to use one of two arguments — either that the entire film is not suitable for viewing or even if all offending portions were deleted there would be very little of the film left to be screened.

Supreme Court lawyer Madhavi Goradia Divan, author of the book Facets of Media Law, an authoritative treatise on the laws governing the media in India, says an outright ban on the film for promoting superstition is a step too far. “The Board could have insisted on some more restrictions, maybe even beyond what the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal advocated. A running ticker could have been there in the movie for every scene where a supposed miracle is taking place the way disclaimers for smoking now appear in movies. More portions could have been deleted if they had objections,” she suggests.

For a complete ban, the Board would have had to conclude that the entire film was a shock to the moral values of society. That would be a ridiculous argument, Ms. Divan says especially considering that greater offences take place on television that go largely unchecked. “Religious programmes run 24/7 on TV like those by Nirmal Baba that tell people that eating paani puri will cure them of their ailments. Programmes like these are supposed to be banned by the Cable Act, but they do more harm than a movie like this. At least going to a movie, especially in India, requires some suspension of disbelief,” she says.

On law and order, a Supreme Court judgment of 2011 says it is the responsibility of the State governments to provide security when there is an “apprehension” of violence because of a film that has been cleared for public viewing. In that year, it directed the Uttar Pradesh government to play Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan though the government had initially placed a ban. Only an extreme case, therefore, in which a film openly incites people to violence can be banned on these grounds.

Does MSG change the fabric of society or incite people to violence? The most comprehensive argument against both comes with just a cursory look at the film’s trailer. Over two-and-a-half minutes, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh bursts through glaciers, takes out goons, has most of humanity following his divine mission and then regales them with rock star-like performances. It is the level of absurdity, in fact, that seems to have struck the former members of the censor Board hard. Protecting the public from bad cinema is undoubtedly a noble cause, but a complete ban was perhaps a wrong call.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 6:00:07 AM |

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