Coming straight to the crux of the matter, let me begin by first and foremost pointing out that the Supreme Court on November 20, 2017 dismissed another plea for the second time to stay the release of the controversial movie Padmavati and initiate criminal prosecution against its Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It made it amply clear that it wants the Censor Board to come to an independent and considered decision on certifying the movie. This is the right step in the right direction and the Supreme Court’s decision has come at the right time which must be respected as it is the highest court of the land.
It is worth mentioning here that the Delhi High Court also just recently turned down a plea seeking to set up an expert committee to ensure that historic facts were not distorted in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama film ‘Padmavati’. Noting that the PIL against release of the film was “hopeless” and “misconceived”, the Delhi High Court said that such pleas only encourage people who are agitating against the period drama. The court further said the final call regarding the release of the film will be taken only by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) thus reiterating what the Supreme Court has said and very rightly so.
As it turned out, the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra very rightly asked the petitioner advocate ML Sharma that, “Can the Supreme Court intervene to stop a movie? The CBFC has a statutory duty. Can this court injunct a statutory board from doing its duty.” Referring to the repeated pleas filed before it for stay of the movie even before the CBFC has certified it, he said that, “All this happens because people do not read the Cinematograph Act and rules.” The lesson learnt is that before making repeated pleas for staying any movie, we should first and foremost read the Cinematograph Act and rules. The Cinematograph Act stipulates that a film shall not be certified for public exhibition if it threatens security of the state, public order, decency and morality. These clauses give the CBFC its famous moniker “censor board”. Then what role do self-appointed censors both from government and civil society have? They must just simply mind their own business!
Be it noted, the CJI Dipak Misra further went on to add that, “Five members see a movie. Once they see it, they discuss it among themselves and suggest cuts. Before they do anything, they give the film-makers an opportunity to be heard to convince them not to cut the scenes in question.” He said that in case of any grievance, there is the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. Very rightly said.
It also cannot be lost upon us that the Apex Court, in its order, said the film is yet to be certified by the CBFC and that “our interference will tantamount to pre-judging the matter.” What the Apex Court has said carries a lot of merit. Who can deny this?
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that the petitioner advocate ML Sharma began by arguing that the movie indulges in the “character assassination” of the 13th century Queen Padmavati. He submitted before the court that, “The Queen was not a dancer. She was a warrior’s wife and a warrior herself”. He argued that the film makers have released the songs without CBFC certification.
Going forward, he said that, “This is character assassination. The CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) has yet to see the material. But four songs have been released.” He also contended that the songs were part of the movie and could not have been released without censor board’s clearance. Viacom 18, which produced the film said the CBFC had sought only more information about the movie.
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that ML Sharma contended that the CBFC did not take any action despite the fact that the songs were part of the movie. He claimed that, “I can prove my point. I can produce the songs in court .” He appeared fully confident while putting across his point.
To be sure, while appearing for the film makers, senior advocate Harish Salve, with another senior advocate Shyam Divan argued that the movie is before the examination committee of the CBFC. Salve said that, “This is a continuous process. These things go back and forth”. Salve while strongly defending the film makers said that, “What we have released are promos”. He also rightly argued that audios do not require approval. He also sought to make it clear that, “No promo can be shown without the clearance of the censor board”.
It is noteworthy that CJI Dipak Misra took the right stand by refusing to jump into the ship of political controversy on the ground that it was “premature”. He said that, “Let it first go to the censor board and then the tribunal before coming to us. The censor board has a definite role. It will go by the guidelines. We are on an altogether different plane.” He also posed very deeply probing questions like “Can this court pass an injunction against them preventing them from doing their statutory duty? Ask them to stop the movie?” No doubt, this is not the job of the Supreme Court because this is entrusted only to the CBFC and CJI has endorsed this very rightly.
As things stand, the Apex Court also turned down ML Sharma’s plea to initiate prosecution under Section 499 IPC (criminal defamation) against the film-makers. The court further found some portions of Sharma’s petition offensive and struck them out. CJI Dipak Misra very explicitly and most rightly stated in the order that, “Pleadings in a court are not meant to create any kind of disharmony in a society which believes in the concept of unity in diversity.” He also while rejecting the petitioners plea said that, “Let’s not go hither and thither”.
In hindsight, this is the second time the court has refused to interfere in the duties of the CBFC on Padmavati. The period drama is based on the 13th century battle between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. The petitioners have strongly objected to this film alleging that it has “defamed” the Rajput princess who had sacrificed her life by doing “Jauhar” that is jumping in fire in order to save herself from falling in the hands of the powerful Delhi Sultanate king Alauddin Khilji.
As if this was not enough, for the third time this month of November, the Supreme Court has once again turned down a request to ban “Padmavati” and said in a strong rebuke to Chief Ministers and others who have spoken out against the film that, “Those holding public offices should not comment on such issues.” The Judges reiterated their earlier stand that it is the prerogative of the national censor board to review the film and make a decision on whether it is suitable for screening.
Needless to say, the Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had said that they will not allow the movie to release even if it is cleared by the censor board. Filmmakers and artists have said unitedly that it is a blatant violation of freedom of expression. The film “Padmavati” has been opposed by many politicians who say that the film cannot be allowed to “distort history” and offend the sentiments of Hindu groups.
Not stopping here, even top Union Ministers have gone overboard and have said that Sanjay Leela Bhansali should consult with opponents of the film and historians to arrive at a version that is acceptable to them all. The Judges have minced no words in putting forth that, “When the matter is pending before the consideration of the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification), how can persons holding public offices comment on whether CBFC should issue certificate or not? That will prejudice the decision of the CBFC.” What the Judges have said is absolutely right and we all must abide by it.
It is high time and now all persons holding public offices should respect what the top court has said in this regard. They cannot disregard what the top court has said! We all must appreciate the basic fact that the Apex Court has stayed away from the extreme step of banning the film as demanded by petitioners time and again because it has not yet received a clearance from the CBFC, on the ground that doing so would amount to “pre-judgment” and very rightly so!
All said and done, threatening violence if film is not banned immediately, awarding cash rewards for those who kill or injure the film actress Deepika Padukone etc can never be justified under any circumstances in any civilized society and those threatening or indulging in violence or giving calls of cash rewards must be arrested promptly and not let out of the jail very easily. We are living in a democratic society and not in a Talibani society. Eminent film personality Javed Akhtar rightly said that, “The Karni Sena says women from Hindu royal families never danced in public. This is a Talibani objection”.
When we Indians can go out of the way and invite Pakistani invader Gen Pervez Musharraf giving a red carpet welcome to him who masterminded Kargil war in which we lost more than 600 soldiers as per official figures even though unofficially the figure is quite high and that too just 2 to 3 months after the Kargil war then why can’t we show some tolerance to an Indian Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is an Indian? Why so much of blind love for Gen Musharraf who has been declared a “proclaimed offender” in his own country and who always has a criminal mentality?
Is it hidden from anyone that Gen Musharraf had threatened to nuke India both during Kargil war and after attack on Parliament if Indian soldiers dared to step even one inch inside Pakistani territory as he feels only Pakistan has the birthright to do so? Is it hidden from anyone that he himself crossed the border about 15-16 km inside India just the night before Kargil war begin as he himself boasts to boost his soldiers morale to slaughter Indians as they did actually when Captain Saurav Kalia and 5 soldiers of 4 Jat Regiment were brutally tortured for 22 days, their eyes, ears and nose were punctured with hot iron rods before taking them out and even their private parts were not spared before finally shooting them on head and not just this Gen Musharraf even awarded Rs 1 lakh as cash prize to dreaded Al Qaeda Terror leader Iliyas Kashmiri when he presented him a severed head of an Indian soldier as a trophy in 2000 as was widely reported in all English dailies? Yet I want to ask that why we Indians started crying in joy shamelessly when Gen Musharraf was welcomed most shamelessly to India by all politicians of all leading national parties thus rubbing salt into the wounds of the families of those soldiers who died fighting Kargil war sponsored directly by this Pakistaani invader Gen Musharraf?
Also, then why so much of intolerance all over India for Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is an Indian and not a Pakistani invader like Gen Musharraf who was shamelessly welcomed like a royal emperor by all parties headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was the then Prime Minister and even honoured by leading Indian media houses for what? For slaughtering our soldiers? For threatening to nuke us but ultimately not nuking us? For calling terrorists as “freedom fighters and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as “freedom struggle” over which even former President Pranab Mukherjee had openly voiced his legitimate anger for giving him so much importance?
Also, let me now wind up by saying: If Supreme Court can wait for CBFC to decide on Padmavati then why are politicians so restless and why can’t Chief Ministers bide their turn? Why can’t we be more tolerant for a film which is not a reality just like we showed tolerant for the mass murderer Gen Musharraf who masterminded kargil war and in whose term India witnessed maximum terror attacks? Why love for Pakistani invader Musharraf but hatred for Bhansali?
Why love for Pakistan by according them Most Favoured Nation status unilaterally in 1996 and continuing with it even more than in 2017? Why Indian leaders have time to visit Pakistan and attend wedding ceremony of relatives of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif but can’t spare time for visiting the families of those soldiers who are beheaded and most brutally murdered by Pakistani terrorists and Army commandos? This despite the fact that Pakistan is giving us repeated thousands of deep cuts and we have lost more than one lakh soldiers in proxy war sponsored directly from Pakistan and are daily losing soldiers and civilians from the hands of either Pakistani soldiers or terrorists trained and armed by Pakistan! Why so much of blind love and tolerance for Pakistan?
Not just this we have even lost millions of people in terror acts sponsored directly from Pakistan! Why most of the people in India and politicians are most tolerant for Pakistan but most intolerant for a born Indian like Sanjay Leela Bhansali? Why in UN our politicians call Pakistan as “Terroristan” but on ground continue with MFN status and foolishly invite dreaded ISI again unilaterally to Pathankot where terrorists trained by ISI killed our officers and soldiers most brutally as Pakistan refuses permission to NIA to visit Pakistan and vow to allow huge army of Pakistani diplomats to not just stay in India but also meet Hurriyat leaders and fund them as was disclosed by NIA recently which resulted in arrest of several top Hurriyat leaders?
Why security for Hurriyat leaders who openly voice separatism, are hands-in-gloves with terrorists and speak Pakistani language? Why are we not nuking all relations with Pakistan inspite of braving thousands of terror attacks directly sponsored by Pakistan? Is some external power behind all this?
Why so much of anger for just a fictional film but no anger for Pakistan and Musharraf except during elections for electoral purposes or for lip service? No sovereign country will behave with Pakistan in the manner that we have behaved that inspite of winning 1971 war released more than 93,000 Pakistani soldiers who were taken as prisoners of war after they surrendered even though Pakistan did not release 54 soldiers officially even though the figure here too is much higher and did not take back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir from them!
With what face politicians oppose film like Padmavati? They have just no right to oppose it. They must pay heed to what the highest court of the land has said in this regard and should never forget the famous dictum that, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.