Bombay HC asks CBFC to clear Udta Punjab with 1 cut; asks for new A certificate in 48 hours

The high court slammed the film certification board for recommending nearly 90 cuts in the film, passed peitition filed by the film's makers.

Mayur Lookhar

Udta Punjab is set to fly again with the Bombay high court clearing the decks for release of the film co-produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor.

In a landmark verdict that will cheer the filmmakers, the court asked for just one scene to be deleted from the 13 recommendations made by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the censor board.

After listening to arguments from both sides, Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi ordered the makers of Udta Punjab to delete the shot of Shahid Kapoor's character urinating on a crowd. The makers will also issue three disclaimers.

"We offered to put in three disclaimers — we are not attempting to show any state in bad light; we do not promote the use of drugs; we do not promote the use of cuss words,” said the petitioners' lawyer, Amit Nayak. 

The court said, "It is not for anyone to interfere on how makers show the issue unless and until the creative freedom is totally abused."

The court asked the board to issue a fresh A certificate within 48 hours so that the film can release as planned, on 17 June. Counsel for the CBFC sought more time, but the court slammed the board for its bureaucratic mindset.

Justice Dharmadhikari and Justice Phansalkar-Joshi obeserved that a blanket ban on the film would be an interference with the filmmakers' creativity.

The court did not find anything in the film that questions India's sovereignty by reference to places in Punjab. Justice Dharmadhikari and Justice Phansalkar-Joshi said it was entirely up to the makers of the film to decide on the setting, theme and pattern.

In another blow to the censor board, the court ruled that the film in no way glorifies the use of drugs. It also observed that the characters in the film and its plot are fictional. It also pointed out that it was unlikely that viewers watching the film would resort to the use of abusive language after watching it on screen.

Playing down the fears of the board that the film could have political ramfications, the court said film was in no way made keeping next year's assembly polls in Punjab in mind. As for the fear of projecting the Sikh community in bad light, the court said a shot showing a Sardar scratching (which was one of the cuts suggested by the CBFC) in a film in no way projects the community in bad light.

The judges pointed out that the recommendation to remove the word Punjab from the title violated the guidelines set for the CBFC. They also said mere references, signboards of Punjab, etc do not affect the sovereignty and integrity of India. 

In another strong statement, the court reminded the board that the word censor is not found in the Cinematograph Act. While the board is empowered to suggest cuts, the cuts should be consistent with constitutional policies, it said.

The lawyer for the makers of Udta Punjab said the CBFC lawyer sought a stay on the court's order as the board may want to approach the Supreme Court. The request was turned down by the high court bench.

Soon after the verdict was announced, director Abhishek Chaubey told reporters, "I am massively relieved that we have the chance to release the film on time. I salute the courage of my producers. I am pleased with the verdict. I can hope that in future, films are viewed in context and not in a blanket manner."