India has often been described, not unjustifiably, as a functioning anarchy.
Credit for the ‘functioning’ part of that description should largely go to our judiciary, which very often steps in to get the two other pillars of the nation’s governance structure – the legislative and executive arms– to do the right thing and/or correct missteps.
Not surprisingly, then, the Union and state governments – along with their various departments and agencies – are frequent defendants in a huge number of cases in various courts across the country. Because, for the so-called common man, our Honourable Courts are the last, and often the only, hope to literally have justice delivered.
The very recent (February 6) judgment of the Bombay High Court that held Jolly LLB 2 guilty of defaming the judiciary and the legal profession, and ordered four cuts before the film could release on Friday is, therefore, particularly unfortunate and worrying.
The producers of the film, Fox Star Studios, initially filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the High Court order but later withdrew the appeal and accepted all the cuts. With large sums of money invested in a marquee release that was literally a couple of days away, one can perhaps empathise with Fox Star Studio’s decision to give up the fight.
It is not for us, a mere film trade publication, to question what the learned Court has decreed in its wisdom, nor do we have any desire to attract contempt proceedings! That said, one cannot help but be very concerned with the precedent thus set.
Just last week, our note on this page (Clowning un-Glory, issue dated February 4, 2017) lamented the brazenness and alarming frequency with which our industry is treated as easy pickings by all and sundry, and the impunity with which we are not only threatened with dire consequences but also, as we saw with horror just weeks ago in Rajasthan, actually face bodily harm.
Another nuisance that filmmakers have to face all-too frequently is a rash of frivolous lawsuits that are filed against imminent and eminent releases on the flimsiest of grounds, usually with the objective of attracting free and easy publicity for the litigants.
One fears that the Bombay High Court judgement imposing further cuts on a film already cleared by the Censors could open the floodgates for similar lawsuits against future releases by parties claiming to be offended by the way their professions/communities/beliefs are portrayed in films.
After all, what is offensive is so subjective that literally every film can be deemed to be defamatory if one is inclined to judge it that way. At the heart of most films’ narrative is conflict – the conflict between people, ideas, ideologies, circumstances and more. The most basic plot line of them all is the battle between good and evil i.e. positive and negative forces. If people belonging to the same profession or community or region as any on-screen character perceived to have been shown in a negative light kept suing us, then filmmakers would have no time to make films as they would be constantly attending court hearings! Taking the ‘negative light’ argument to its logical conclusion, our films would perforce have to portray everything and everyone only in flattering terms and if that was so, there would really be very few, and very boring, films that we could make.
What is particularly deflating about the Bombay High Court decision is that it was delivered by that very institution that came to the filmmaking community’s rescue just a few months back (June 2016). When Udta Punjab was ordered to carry out a staggering 90 plus cuts by the Censor Board, the Honourable Bombay High Court ensured that the film could release unscathed by rejecting all but one cut.
That particular judgment was hailed not just as a victory for one film but a much broader triumph in the cause of freedom of creative expression. Even more so since the observations of the presiding judges, Justice S C Dharamadhikari and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi, had some very forceful and forthright comments in favour of protecting artistic freedom.
This week, as we ponder the implications of the Jolly LLB 2 order, we can find some solace by remembering what was said by those sitting in judgment on the Udta Punjab case.
To quote a few observations:
“It is for filmmakers to choose the setting of their films as it was the underlying key to creative freedom.”
“The audience is mature enough to decide what it wants to watch.”
“None can dictate to the film maker on how he should make a film and use words; there is no need to censor films.”
“Sometimes, to open the eyes of the public to the menace, you have to be direct. If the film does not have content, it will not go forward. The creative minds will learn from their mistakes, why are you worried about this. Being critical will not help, we want creative people to survive and grow.”
“Let people who are the best censors, do the censoring,”
On second thoughts, maybe it’s not just the filmmaking community alone that could do with a refresher course on the above remarks.