New Delhi: In a big boost to freedom of speech and expression, the Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat across India by overturning the decision of four states to ban the film.
The court said that “creative freedom, freedom of speech and expression can’t be guillotined and artistic freedom has to be protected,” and asked the states to grant protection to theatres for release of the film and to provide security to the artistes as well.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, which was hearing a petition filed against the ban by Viacom 18 and other producers of the movie, said that if states continue with the ban, they would be liable for contempt of court. The court also restrained other states from banning the film.
Even though the Censor Board had, on December 30 last year, given a go-ahead to Padmaavat after much drama and convening a special panel of experts who ordered several cuts and a change of title, Rajasthan and Gujarat decided to ban the film, while Madhya Pradesh and Haryana did not issue any formal order but said that they would not allow the exhibition of the film.
Padmaavat, with Deep-ika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles, is scheduled to be released on January 25.
Refusing to the accept the arguments of additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta on behalf of the four states, that law and order must be kept in mind, the bench said freedom of speech and expre-ssion, particularly as a medium of expression on celluloid, cannot be curtailed in this manner. Creative content, it said, is an insegregable aspect of Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. “Needless to emphasise that this right is absolute,” it added.
The bench said states cannot prohibit the release of the film in theatres once the Censor Board had granted the certificate after examining the movie, and added, “It is obligatory on the part of the states to maintain law and order and take effective steps for the release of the film... Once the Censor Board formed an opinion and permitted its release, the state could not form a different opinion and prohibit the release of the film.”
Mr Mehta said the issue is not merely about a film denigrating women or projecting a woman in bad light, but it is the question of hurting the faith of people. There is serious apprehension of law and order problem because there are many who worship Rani Padmavati as a goddess, he said.
The CJI told the ASG that even Bandit Queen passed the test of the court and added, “We are concerned that a film is being banned from being exhibited… expression of a creative content… my constitutional conscience is shocked.”
“Cinemas are an inseparable part of right to free speech and expression. States... cannot issue notifications prohibiting the screening of a film,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
When petitioner’s counsel Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi said that in the West they make movies like Jesus Christ Superstar, ASG Mehta objected saying “that’s not Indian standard” and added that India will not allow anyone showing Mahatma Gandhi sipping liquor in the name of freedom of speech.