By the time you read this, you will most likely be aware that a ‘landmark judgement’ of sorts was awarded by the Bombay High Court to the makers of the upcoming drama Udta Punjab in their much-publicised fight against the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The producers of the film — directed by Abhishek Chaubey and featuring marquee stars such as Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh, a huge star in his home state Punjab — have been combating the CBFC’s draconian order of a jaw-dropping 89 cuts (13 orders amounting to 89 instances, to end the confusion) in court for the past week.
These cuts included visual cuts and references that set the film in Punjab, on grounds that they defamed the state, and audio cuts of profanity. Oh, and they also wanted a film about drugs to… not show people doing drugs.
On Monday afternoon, Justice SC Dharmadhikari delivered a verdict that brought much joy to the film fraternity: Udta Punjab will now release in theatres this Friday with 88 of those proposed cuts retained, barring one shot of Kapoor, who plays a ‘rockstar’ named Tommy Singh in the film, urinating in front of a crowd during a concert. Clearly, the Bombay High Court isn’t hot on the idea of cheeky references to real-life incidents involving real-life rockstars.
Sure, it’s a relatively small price to pay, given that the film’s colourful language (as seen in its trailer), among other things, has been left completely untouched. An ecstatic Chaubey, during a chat with HuffPost India Bollywood Editor Ankur Pathak at the court premises, said: “I am not gonna be able to sleep tonight. The happiness hasn’t sunk in yet. This is the film I wanted the audience to see.”
But even as sunlight bursts through dark clouds, the horizon remains overcast. As the Udta Punjab battle went down to the wire, another one came up: Haraamkhor, an indie drama starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Masaan actress Shweta Tripathi, has been denied a certificate by the board’s Examining Committee.
The reason: its ‘objectionable’ theme, which depicts an illicit relationship between a 14-year-old girl and her teacher. Meanwhile, a Gujarati film based on the reservations agitation led by Hardik Patel last year faces 100 cuts on grounds of verisimilitude.
Meanwhile, amidst celebratory tweets, filmmaker Hansal Mehta, whose acclaimed drama Aligarh went through the CBFC rigmarole just a few months ago, asked a pertinent question. “Must we always have to approach the courts for redressal of our grievances when there is a body appointed by the govt. to perform the very same task?” he tweeted. “If the CBFC is unable to interpret the guidelines without restricting artistic freedom, then why does the CBFC exist at all?”
He also drew attention to the plight of smaller filmmakers, some of whom may not have the resources or the time to fight legal battles. “Not every producer can afford excellent legal assistance like the producers of #UdtaPunjab, nor do they have the requisite strength to garner industry/media support,” he reasoned.
“Let the #UdtaPunjab case not be a one-off incidence of collective outrage resulting in a positive outcome. We must rally behind the weak when they need it. Let the CBFC not exercise its autocracy on hapless and helpless producers who have no means or clout to fight.”