Freedom of expression and Censorship


The Central Board of Film Certification’s (CBFC) discomfort to allow filmmakers’ “freedom of expression” has been a subject of clash quite often, with the recent one involving the producers of the film Udta Punjab, a drug abuse themed film, who approached the Bombay High Court challenging the order of CBFC asking it to delete different items, words, references etc.The Court said that CBFC’s power is to only certify movies for public exhibition and not to censor them.

The parties have time and again knocked the doors of the Court to throw better light on the matter. On such case is Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon and Others. In this case the appellant (production company) had produced a film titled ‘Bandit Queen‘, based on a true story of a village girl who was raped and brutalised, and who thereupon became a member of a criminal gang to avenge her humiliation. The film contained explicit scenes of rape and nudity. The revising Committee had granted an ‘A’ certificate, subject to certain excisions and modifications. (An ’A’ certificate implies that the film may be viewed only by adults). Though the ‘A’ Certification was appealed, the Tribunal upheld the decision of the revising Committee. The censored film was open to public viewing at various cinema theaters in the country.

The respondent, a member of the community referred to in the film, filed a petition for the quashing of the certificate, on the grounds that the portrayal of the protagonist was ‘abhorrent and unconscionable and a slur upon the womanhood of India’. He also claimed that the film depicted his community in a depraved way which lowers his self-respect. The Court at first instance quashed the certificate, among other things on the grounds that the scene of nudity was ‘indecent’. This ruling was upheld on appeal. The applicants petitioned the Supreme Court.

The Apex Court after considering the evidences placed on record held that the quashing of the certificate by the lower Courts constituted an infringement of the appellant’s right to freedom of expression. The Apex Court held that the guidelines issued by the Central Government under the provisions of sub-section (2) of Section 5-B of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 have been carefully drawn. They require the authorities concerned with film certification to be responsive to the values and standards of society and take note of social changes. They are required to ensure that ’artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed”. The film must be “judged in its entirety from the point of view of its over-all impact”. The Court further stated that, the guidelines are broad standards. They cannot be read as one would read a statue. Within the breadth of their parameters the certification authorities have discretion. It further stated that, a film that illustrates the consequences of a social evil necessarily must show that social evil. The guidelines must be interpreted in that light. Giving the benefit of doubt to the Board, the Court stated that the Tribunal had viewed the film in true perspective and had, in compliance with the requirements of the guidelines, granted to the film an ’A’ certificate subject to the conditions it stated. In light of which the Apex Court stated that the High Court ought not to have entertained the 1st respondent’s writ petition impugning the grant of the certificate, as it was based principally upon the slurs allegedly cast by the film on the Gujjar community. Consequently the Apex Court upheld the ’A’ certificate subject to the conditions imposed by the Appellate Tribunal.


Authored by Bhuvana S. Babu

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