Supreme Court today disapproved the use of expletives in the film ‘Udta Punjab’ but refused to interfere with the controversy arising out of it and keeping the issues alive by leaving it to the Punjab and Haryana High Court to examine them.
After hearing the nitty-gritty of the dispute, the apex court preferred that the High Court, which is seized of the matter, should look into the plea of an NGO which had sought a stay on the scheduled screening of the film tomorrow.
“We are not interfering in the matter. We are not going into the merits. Liberty granted to the petitioner to approach the Punjab and Haryana High Court which is seized of the matter,” a vacation bench of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and L Nageswara Rao said.
It also objected to the strategy of the Punjab-based NGO Human Rights Awareness Association of utilising multiple judicial forums at the same time.
“You can’t raise the issues at the same time in multiple forums,” the bench said after it was informed that Punjab and Haryana High Court was also seized of the matter and the matter was also raised before Delhi High Court yesterday after it was mentioned in the apex court.
The bench said the NGO can raise the issue before it if it is aggrieved by the High Court order.
During the hearing, Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films, the co-producer of the movie, also faced tough questions from the apex court on the use of expletives and abuses saying “are these words actually necessary.”
“The language is very, very obscene. You can have your own review and delete these scenes. We are handicapped. We have not seen the movie, but the expletives … are these words actually necessary,” the bench asked.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for Phantom Films, said the expletives should not be taken in isolation and should be seen in the totality of the film which deals with drug problem in Punjab.
To this, the bench said there were the issues of ‘drug addiction’ and ‘intoxication’, and added that those addicted do not use abuses but, instead, become restless, annoyed and show withdrawal symptoms, if deprived of the drugs.
“We have seen in legal service awareness camps, that those addicted to drugs do not use abusive language. When they are deprived of the drugs, they tend to become restless, annoyed and start showing withdrawal symptoms,” the bench said, adding that although the film is based on drug problem, the use of expletives may not have been necessary.
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The apex court further said that a drug addict may resort to theft but may not indulge in extortion.
It said there were two problems shown in the movie — one there is supply of drugs and the other, unemployment among the youth.
“We understand that Punjab is just a location where there is supply. The same problem can be in any other states in Northeast, Goa and even in Delhi,” the bench said.
Arora said for the same reasons the filmmakers have applied for ‘A’ certification of the movie.
But the bench said “the ‘A’ certification is not of much relevance. It is only for cinema halls. 90 per cent of people may not go to the cinema halls and watch the movie online, on mobile phones, CDs and other means.”
The counsel further contended that they have been running the disclaimers and one of which was also sought by the Bombay High Court to be shown about the language used.
“It is a film based on four stories built on different backgrounds. In an attempt to bring the movie nearer to reality and build a story, the colloquial words have been used. Even in a city like Delhi, several such colloquial words are being used,” Arora said.
The bench also questioned senior advocate Subramanya Prasad appearing for the NGO about its locus standi and how it was affected.
“How are you aggrieved? What work have you done for the youth in Punjab? Neither Censor Board is aggrieved nor the Punjab government is aggrieved by the Bombay High Court order. We have to look into the locus standi of the petitioner,” the bench said.
The counsel said the film only shows the problem and every youth of the state will be perceived as a drug addict. He said that investments made in the state will also suffer as the movie shows serious law and order problem.
Prasad claimed that the Bombay High Court, without watching the movie and just by going through the script, has undone the cuts suggested by the CBFC, an experts body.
“Mere reading of script of the film will not show the impact of how the society is being affected,” the counsel said adding that two authorities saw the movie and suggested the cuts in the film but the High Court looked into the script and undid the cuts.
The senior counsel further said that June 17, when the film is slated for release, was not a ‘sacrosanct’ date which cannot be changed and suggested that the bench should also see the movie.
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On June 13, the Bombay High Court had cleared the decks for the release of ‘Udta Punjab’ after ordering deletiong of a urination scene and displaying a revised disclaimer as per which the makers would have to delete reference to Pakistan.
The Bombay High Court had also directed the film-maker to make additions to the disclaimer to the effect that the movie, its characters and the film-makers do not promote the use of drugs and abusive language, and the film is only attempting to depict the reality of drug abuse.
In the Bombay High Court, Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films had challenged the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) revising committee’s order of June 6 directing for a total of 13 changes in the movie.