The Supreme Court today paved the way for the nationwide release of Bollywood movie ‘Padmaavat’ on January 25 by staying the ban on the screening of the controversial film in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The apex court also restrained other states from issuing any such notification or order banning the screening of the film, with Chief Justice Dipak Misra saying “the whole problem is when the exhibition of a film is stopped like this, my constitutional conscience shocks me”. “There were so many films earlier, but nobody really bothered. ‘Bandit Queen’ had passed the test of the Supreme Court,” the CJI, who was heading the bench, said. The film, starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in lead roles, is based on the saga of historic battle of 13th century between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. The decks were cleared for the release of the film as the apex court stayed the orders and notifications issued by Rajasthan and Gujarat governments prohibiting its screening. Haryana and Madhya Pradesh governments have not issued any formal order but had stated that they would not allow the exhibition of the film. “In view of the aforesaid, we direct there shall be stay of operation of the notifications and orders issued by the respondent-states and we also restrain the other states to issue notifications/orders in any manner prohibiting the exhibition …,” the bench, which also comprised Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said. In its interim order, it observed: “It should always be remembered that if intellectual prowess and natural or cultivated power of creation is interfered without the permissible facet of law, the concept of creativity paves the path of extinction; and when creativity dies, values of civilisation corrode.”
Maintaining that states were under constitutional obligation to maintain law and order, the apex court said that this duty also includes providing police protection to persons who are involved in the film, its exhibition and the audience watching it. The remarks assume significance in the wake of recent attacks, including one in Muzaffarpur (Bihar) today, against the release of the film. The set of Padmavat was vandalised twice — in Jaipur and Kolhapur, while its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was roughed up by members of the Karni Sena last year. Referring to the apex court’s 2011 verdict in M/s Prakash Jha Productions case, which was about the decision taken by some states suspending screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ for a specified period, the bench said the state authorities should keep in mind the judgement which clearly said that it was the paramount obligation of the state to maintain law and order. “Keeping in view the fact situation, we have no hesitation in stating by way of repetition and without any fear of contradiction that it is the duty of the state to sustain the law and order situation whenever the film is exhibited, which would also include providing police protection to the persons who are involved in the film/in the exhibition of the film and the audience watching the film, whenever sought for or necessary,” the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on March 26. The top court passed the interim order on the petition by Viacom 18 Media Pvt Ltd and other producers of the movie challenging bar on screening of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed movie by Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. The bench, in its order, noted that “creative content is an insegregable aspect” of Article 19(1) of the Constitution which relates to freedom of speech and expression. “Needless to emphasise, this right is not absolute.
There can be regulatory measures,” the bench said, adding that once Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has issued U/A certificate to the film, its non-exhibition by states would be contrary to statutory provisions and infringe the fundamental right of the petitioners. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Gujarat and Rajasthan, said that grant of certificate by the CBFC cannot denude the state of the power to prohibit the exhibition of a film. Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, who were appearing for the petitioners, said the states had no power to issue such notifications banning exhibition of a film when the CBFC has already given a certificate for its release. While Salve termed it as “lawlessness”, Rohatgi said that states cannot act like “super censor board” and issue such notifications or orders. ASG Mehta said there were intelligence reports regarding law and order problem in these states in the event of exhibition of this movie and CBFC, while certifying the film, was neither supposed to know about the law and order situation, nor does it have the wherewithal to deal with it. “Please try to understand. Let the film be released,” the bench told the ASG, adding a movie might not be so successful at the box office and people might not go to watch it, but it’s exhibition cannot be prohibited like this. The issue of alleged distortion of history was also raked up before the court and Salve referred to the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution. However, Mehta contended that “history may be distorted but somebody showing Gandhiji sipping whisky, then the country will have objection”. “Freedom of Expression and Speech can never include distortion in our country,” the ASG said. The bench said these matters must have been looked into by the CBFC. Salve countered the submissions of Mehta saying, “This is lawlessness. The states cannot say we have political obligations to cater to, so we will not allow screening of a film.” He said the Centre should not “support” these states due to “political compulsion” and must direct them to comply with the CBFC certification.