The year saw an increasing number of petitions regarding film censorship reach the Supreme Court. It began with actor Amol Palekar challenging pre-censorship laws, to the court upholding free speech in Indu Sarkar, to adopting a policy of non-interference in the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification in Padmavati .
The court prima facie agreed with Mr. Palekar that pre-censorship of films was a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression of film makers and the public. It asked the government and the CBFC to respond to the petition which contended that it was time to act on a recommendation made by a panel led by filmmaker Shyam Benegal that the CBFC’s role should be confined to film certification.
Mr. Palekar argued that the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983 imposed pre-censorship on the freedom of speech and expression of the artistes and the audience.
The cine veteran said he was aggrieved by the provisions granting the power of ordering cuts, deletions, alterations in a film along with the abuse of power while exercising those given by the said Act and Rules while certifying and/or denying certification to any applicant film. The petition said pre-censorship of films was irrelevant in the Internet era.
A series of decisions which followed the petition gave reason to cheer for free speech activists. Refusing to stay Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar , the court held that it would not curb artistic licence to dramatise historical facts. The film portrays the Emergency days of 1975-1977. It was opposed by a woman, who claimed to be the biological daughter of Sanjay Gandhi. The court held that the “national interest and right to know is more important than individual’s reputation”.
Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra took a significant stand in a petition to delete certain scenes in the documentary An Insignificant Man on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwal. “Every artist, be it a filmmaker or dramatist, has an individual perception of history and it is not up to the courts to gag them. Freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct. Creative rights cannot be curbed or gagged on the whims and fancies,” the Chief Justice noted.
The court’s intervention against the “verbal directions” issued by the Uttar Pradesh government in the release of Muzaffarnagar the Burning Love , a love story of a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl and set in the backdrop of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, saw the State clarify on record that it had no objection to its release. But the judicial intervention came only after the court found that the CBFC had already certified the movie.
The Supreme Court defined its policy on films when Justice Misra observed that the court did not want to step on the toes of the CBFC and wanted the statutory body to come to an independent and considered decision on certifying Padmavati . The court said the judiciary cannot and should not stop a statutory body like the CBFC from doing its duty by “prematurely” ordering a stay on its release.