Kahiu v. Mutua
In Progress Expands Expression
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The Supreme Court of India overturned decisions by four states to ban the screening of the controversial Bollywood film Padmaavat, which tells the story of a 14th Century Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler, which had sparked nationwide protests by Hindu and caste groups. The Court reasoned that creative content was an inseparable part of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, that the right was not absolute but that regulatory measures in place under section 5 of the Cinematograph Act 1952 gave the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) powers over the certification of films and that States’ could not substitute its own rules. “Once the parliamentary legislation confers the responsibility and the power on a statutory Board and the Board grants certification, non-exhibition of the film by the States would be contrary to the statutory provisions and infringe the fundamental right of the petitioners”, the Court said.
The petitioners were producers of the film ‘Padmaavat’, a historical film based on an epic poem, Padmavat, describing the valor of 14th century Hundu queen Padmavati of Chittor (now Rajasthan) of the high Rajput caste and the obsession of Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji. The Central Board of Film Certification gave the film an U/A certificate (unrestricted subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve) and provided for minor edits including a disclaimer that the film was based on the account of poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, which is considered fiction and does not seek to represent a historically accurate account.
Prior to release of the film, there was public condemnation, protests and threats of violence by groups of Rajputs in relation to unverified concerns that the Rajput queen was portrayed in a ‘dream sequence’, displaying romance between the queen of the besieged kingdom and the invading Muslim ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khilji. The petitioners denied this.
After the clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the States of Gujarat and Rajasthan issued notifications suspending the film because of the threat to public order while the States of Madhya Pradesh and Haryana decided to ban its screening.
The Court firstly stated that creative content was an inseparable part of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, that the right was not absolute and that there were regulatory measures under section 5 of the Cinematograph Act 1952. In granting a certificate the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was obliged to follow guiding principles of inter alia public order, decency, morality and defamation and therefore “once the certificate has been issued, there is prima facie a presumption that the concerned authority has taken into account all the guidelines including public order”.
“Once the parliamentary legislation confers the responsibility and the power on a statutory Board and the Board grants certification, non-exhibition of the film by the States would be contrary to the statutory provisions and infringe the fundamental right of the petitioners” [para 15].
The Court rejected the States’ argument that state regulations permitted the banning of films on the basis that the language used in the regulations, namely “suspension” and “publicly exhibited”, meant that the States’ powers could only be exercised following the film’s screening and not prior to the exhibition of the film.
The Court also rejected the argument that an interim stay would amount to a final order because the film would be screened. The Court went on to say that if the States established a substantial ground in law at trial, the outcome might be different, but that this was an interim application and it was “considering the prima facie case and having due regard to the fundamental conception of right of freedom of speech and expression”.
In these circumstances, the Court issued an interim order granting a stay of the notifications and allowing the film to be screened. It also noted that it was the duty of the State to maintain law and order whenever the film was screened and that this extended to police protection for people involved in the film and audiences if requested or necessary.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The case expands expression by preventing prior censorship by State governments after a film has already received certification.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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