Indian filmmakers go to court over censorship row

Lawyer told Mumbai's highest court Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had demanded 13 cuts to "Udta Punjab"

Afp June 08, 2016
Lawyer told Mumbai's highest court Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had demanded 13 cuts to "Udta Punjab". PHOTO: Indian Express/Amit Mehra

MUMBAI, INDIA: Indian filmmakers on Wednesday took a bitter censorship row to court, the latest dispute involving the notoriously sensitive censor board that has renewed fears over creative freedoms.

A lawyer told Mumbai's highest court the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had demanded 13 cuts to "Udta Punjab", a Bollywood movie depicting drug addiction in Punjab state.

The CBFC last year blocked the release of a toned-down version of "Fifty Shades of Grey" and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience.

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"Udta Punjab" producers had filed a petition with the Bombay High Court asking it to order the CBFC to release its list of required cuts, amid reports the board was seeking 89 changes to the movie.

They received the suggested list of 13 cuts shortly before the hearing, their lawyer told the court. Judges adjourned the case until Thursday to give the filmmakers time to decide their next move.

No details were given about which cuts should be made but Indian media has widely reported that the CBFC wants the filmmakers to remove all references to Punjab, including in the title.

The northern Indian state is due to hold local elections in 2017. Critics allege that the CBFC is censoring the movie to avoid embarrassing the state government.

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CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani suggested Wednesday that references to Punjab could be cut because, despite claiming the characters are fictitious, "the whole movie is on Punjab and they have taken names from Punjab".

"The film has been passed. They need to submit the cuts and take the certificate," Nihalani told reporters.

The dispute has renewed fears over creative freedom in India, with one of "Udta Punjab's" producers, Anurag Kashyap, tweeting on Monday that the CBFC's stance was akin to living in North Korea.

A number of Bollywood actors and directors have come out in support of the filmmakers.

India's censors have a long history of barring movies and cutting scenes, including those that are deemed too racy or capable of causing religious offence. Filmmakers accuse censors of intolerance.

The movie, starring Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor, is scheduled for release on June 17. The CBFC is set to grant it an "Adult" rating if the film's producers agree to the cuts.

The filmmakers can go to a tribunal if they disagree with the changes.


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