No Ad-Interim Relief for Ex-CBFC Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani Against Censor Cuts in “Rangeela Raja”

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On November 13, 2018, the Bombay High Court refused to grant an ad-interim relief to former CBFC chairman and filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani (“Petitioner”), who had challenged the order dated November 2, 2018 passed by the Central Board of Film Certification (“CBFC”) directing 20 cuts in his forthcoming Govinda-starrer film, Rangeela Raja (“Film”).

The Petitioner challenged the impugned order, seeking certification of the Film to either “U” (unrestricted public exhibition) or “UA” (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve). The Petitioner also sought a direction to appoint a committee to view the Film and make suggestions to the Court.

The Petitioner approached the Court after the CBFC ordered over 20 cuts to his Film; that he proposed to release on November 16, 2018. In his petition, the Petitioner had contended that the cuts are mala fide and unjust and that he firmly believed the Film was not vulgar in any manner. Apparently, the Petitioner also accused the present CBFC chairman, Prasoon Joshi, of being “politically motivated” (when Nihalani’s own tenure as the CBFC chairman was plagued with controversies for directing arbitrary cuts in various films, which eventually led to him being replaced by Prasoon Joshi).

Accordingly, the Petitioner urged the Court to grant interim relief taking into consideration the urgency involved in the matter and claiming that review before the Revising Committee of the CBFC and appeal to the FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) in the ordinary course would result in an undue delay.

Interestingly (read – amusingly), the Petitioner placed reliance on the decision of the Bombay High Court in Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. v. The Central Board of Film Certification & Anr. (commonly known as the “Udta Punjab case”) in which several cuts had been ordered by the CBFC “which was then helmed by the Petitioner himself”. In the Udta Punjab case, the Court had entertained the matter on merits despite an alternate remedy being available to the filmmakers.

The Respondents however sought to distinguish the two cases and submitted that in the Udta Punjab matter, the filmmakers had availed of the remedy of review. However, as the Chairperson of the Tribunal was unavailable till the proposed date of release of the Film, the Court deemed it necessary to hear the matter on merits. The Respondents therefore contended that the Petitioner should in this case seek an alternate efficacious remedy either through review before the Revising Committee of the CBFC or an appeal to the FCAT; which had already been available to him since the date of the impugned order of the CBFC.

Justice Riyaz Chagla, presiding over the vacation bench of the Bombay High Court observed that the Petitioner had recourse to alternate appropriate remedies and could further approach the regular Court after the court vacation ended on November 19, 2018. In light of the above, the Court held that there was no urgency made out in moving the vacation bench of the Court and denied any urgent ad-interim relief. The order can be viewed here.

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