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Election Commission stops PM Narendra Modi, says the biopic 'disturbs level playing field'

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The commission acted a day after the Central Board of Film Certification cleared the biopic for theatrical release with a 'U' certificate.

Shriram Iyengar

The Election Commission of India has stayed the theatrical release of the upcoming biopic on prime minister Narendra Modi, PM Narendra Modi.

The commission said the film will 'disturb the level playing field' during the general election in India. The first phase of polling takes place tomorrow, which was also the day PM Narendra Modi was slated for release. 

The decision by the Election Commission comes a day after the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) cleared the film with a 'U' certification.

Producer Sandip Ssingh had said in a statement after the CBFC clearance, "We are very happy that we got the ‘U’ certificate from the censor board [as the CBFC continues to be popularly known], and finally the film will be releasing on 11 April.

"We are also very relieved that the Supreme Court has rejected the plea [against the film's release]. It is clear now from everywhere. I hope no political party across India has any problem, because the Election Commission, the CBFC, and all the courts have cleared all the pleas, and our film is ready for release. We are grateful to each and everyone who has prayed for us."

A report on the NDTV.com website quoted the Election Commission as saying, "No biopic serving any political purpose can be released during the general election." 

The CNBC TV18 website also quoted the commission stating 'no biopics' will be allowed to be released during the electoral process.

The film, directed by Omung Kumar B, features Vivek Anand Oberoi as prime minister Narendra Modi. The film has already run into several controversies, with opposition parties like the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) writing to the Election Commission to take action against it for violating the model code of conduct in place a month before voting begins for the seven-phase general election.

However, on 3 April, the poll panel refused to decree a stay on the film, stating that the right to ban a film lies with the CBFC. In turn, the opposition parties filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday 9 April, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition stating that it was 'premature' to ban a film when it had not yet received a certificate. In addition, the court pointed out that any decision regarding the film's violation of the model code of conduct lies with the Election Commission.

With the CBFC having certified and cleared the film for release, the Election Commission found it within its purview to act and declared a stay on its release.

Last month, Cinestaan.com spoke to several political scientists who felt that the film did fall foul of the model code of conduct (MCC).

Suhas Palshikar, social and political scientist, had said, "It violates the model code of conduct. The Election Commission should do something about it."

In its notice, the Election Commission wrote, "It has come to the notice of the Election Commission that certain political contents, which are not in conformity with the model code of conduct, are being displayed or intended to be displayed to the public through electronic media including cinematograph in the public, which relates to either a candidate or a political party...." 

The notice further mentioned complaints against Lakshmi's NTR directed by Ram Gopal Varma and the Telugu film Udayama Simham, alongside PM Narendra Modi, as films violating the code of conduct. 

It reads: "So far the commission has received complaints about certain cinemas namely NTR's Laxmi (sic), PM Narendra Modi and Udayama Simham, which are claimed to either diminish or advance the electoral prospect of a candidate or a political party in the garb of freedom. It is claimed that such creative contents are a form of surrogate publicity by the candidate or the party during the period of MCC."

While the commission goes on to admit that the content in the film may not fall under the 'purview' of advertisement, "such political content poses a serious threat to the level playing field as it may create an impression of truthfulness of such content being shown through Television/Cinema/Internet-based entertainment programmes/social media. And, therefore, it is in the larger interest of ensuring the level playing field and conduct of free and fair elections that such political content ought to be regulated during the election period to prevent violation of Model Code of Conduct."