WHETHER STATE GOVERNMENTS CAN BAN ‘PADMAAVAT’ UNDER LOCAL CINEMA REGULATIONS PRIOR TO ITS RELEASE?

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Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ (earlier titled Padmavati) has been doing its rounds of controvesies since the inception of its shooting. Prior to the film receiving its certification from CBFC and now even post receiving the censor certificate, some state governments like the Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Government have declared a ban on the film. The situation brings back memories of the film ‘Aarakshan’ where several state governments such as the government of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh had declared a ban on the film despite it receiving the certificate from the CBFC.

The Supreme Court in the matter of Prakash Jha Productions & Anr V/s Union of India & Ors [2011 (8) SCC 372] has held that once the film has been certified by the Censor Board, it is the duty of the state government to effectively maintain law and order once such film has been publicly exhibited. Referring to Section 6(1) of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation), Act, 1955, the Supreme Court further held that suspension can be ordered in respect of a thing which is operational and not which is yet to be put into operation. The apex court had held that suspension of the film even before it was publicly exhibited in that state was ultra vires Section 6 of the UP Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1955.

It is important to understand the scheme of the provision of these state cinema regulations which provide for the state governments to suspend the exhibition of films in certain cases.

For instance, Section 7 of the Rajasthan Cinemas Regulation Act, 1952 provides as under:

“Power to suspend exhibition of films in certain cases – (1) The State Government in respect of the whole or any part of the State of Rajasthan and the District Magistrate in respect of the district within his jurisdiction may, if it or he is of opinion that any film which is being publicly exhibited is likely to cause breach of the peace by order suspend the exhibition of such film and during such suspension, the film shall be deemed to be an uncertified film in such whole, part or district of the State of Rajasthan. (2) Where an order under sub-section (1) has been issued by a District Magistrate, a copy there of together with a statement of reason therefor, shall forthwith be forwarded to the State Government and the State Government may on a consideration of all the facts of the case confirm, modify or cancel the order. (3) An order made under this section shall remain in force for a period of two months from the date thereof but the State Government may if it is of opinion that the order should continue in force direct that the period of suspension shall be extended by such further period, as if it thinks fit.”

Most of the other state cinema regulations have a similar provision which empowers state governments to suspend exhibition of the film but only after it has been publicly exhibited.  Banning the film in the states despite CBFC having cleared the film seems to be a desperate and mala fide attempt to step into the role of the CBFC and is clearly ultra-vires the powers of the state governments under their respective state cinema regulations. The concern raised by these political parties clearly seems to be a vote bank politics.

The release date of a film is extremely critical as a lot of consultation amongst producers and related parties is required and a lot of money is put on stake. The opening weekend of the film decides the fate of the film. With piracy being rampant, if a film loses its opening weekend and releases subsequently in these states where the film is proposed to be banned then the film would certainly lose out on a huge chunk of revenues. Prakash Jha Productions had filed a writ for damages against the states where the film ‘Aarakshan’ was banned. The SLP is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Once the CBFC has certified the movie for public exhibition it should not open for any state government to review the contents thereof under their respective state cinema regulations with a view to impose pre-censorship. Review of the order of the CBFC by the State Governments is contrary to the provisions of the Cinematograph Act. The power of the state governments under state cinema regulations is limited to suspending the exhibition of films which are already being publicly exhibited and cannot be exercised to review the contents of a film which has not even been released. Such illegal exercise of power by state governments is in violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. The grant of the certificate by CBFC is an acknowledgement of the fact that the film producers have satisfied the limitations imposed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has clearly laid down in a series of decisions that if the film is unobjectionable and cannot constitutionally be restricted under Article 19(2), freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and surrender to black mail and intimidation. It is now the duty of the states to protect the rights of the film makers and provide a safe environment for the exhibition of the film. Cinema should not be held ransom to vote bank politics and hooliganism. It would be a dark day for democracy in India if films are not allowed to be publicly exhibited despite receiving CBFC certificate.

Image source: here

 

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