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Indian Court Censures Censor

by AFP
Bollywood film director Anurag Kashyap addresses the media on ‘Udta Punjab.’ Sujit Jaiswal—AFP

Bollywood film director Anurag Kashyap addresses the media on ‘Udta Punjab.’ Sujit Jaiswal—AFP

Bombay High Court overturns demand to make 13 cuts to ‘Udta Punjab.’

A top court told India’s film censor board Monday not to act “like a grandmother” as it 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 in 2017 and critics alleged that the CBFC 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 a character urinating should 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 CBFC last year blocked the release of a toned-down version of Fifty Shades of Grey and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience. Filmmakers accuse the censors of intolerance.

The Bombay High Court said filmmakers should be allowed to choose the backdrop for movies, ruling that the CBFC’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, M.P., parliament, and party” should be cut and said a scene where a character injects himself with drugs could be shown. References to a dog named “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 court, adding that he hoped it would force the board to change its approach.

Several Bollywood actors and directors praised the court’s decision. “Landmark judgment by the honorable Bombay High Court on #UdtaPunjab. Great victory for the filmmakers,” Madhur Bhandarkar, a filmmaker himself, wrote on Twitter. “Thank U Judiciary for giving back the makers of Indian Cinema their right to express,” tweeted filmmaker and dissenting CBFC board member Ashoke Pandit.

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

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