The Supreme Court of India has decided in favour of releasing the long delayed, Sanjay Leela Bhansali production, Padmaavat. If the name seems a bit unfamiliar, you might know it from its original title, Padmavati – a change that had to be made as a result of several protests against the release of the film.
What was the problem?
Ever since filming began, the project has been surrounded by a great deal of protest and controversy. Based on the historical poem, Padmavat as penned by 15th Century poet, Malik Muhammed Jayasi, the legend tells of the story of Rani Padmavati, the Rajput queen of Mewar, who famously committed jauhar, an act of self-immolation when faced with capture by another famous ruler, Alauddin Khilji. The problems began when local, Rajasthani association members of the Karni Sena began to protest the production of the movie on grounds of severe historical inaccuracies and objectionable material in the re-telling of the story.
The protests were only the tip of the iceberg, with the film being refused certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (censor board certification) on the grounds of a technicality. With the ongoing protests, mounting socio-political pressure and censorship of the film, Padmaavat quickly became symbolic of the fight for artistic expression and free speech.
The Hindustan Times has provided a detailed timeline of the entire issue, and merits a read to be able to fully understand the systematic protesting the film and its makers have had to endure. The Supreme Court of India (with the Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra) has quite clearly based its recent ruling on the idea of protecting free speech and stated:
Creative freedom, freedom of speech and expression can’t be guillotined… artistic freedom has to be protected,”
With the movie all set for release on January 25, 2018 we bet the cast and crew are breathing a big sigh of relief. The interesting thing about this film fiasco is that 2017 saw a lot of movies having to deal with censorship, and what’s more, for reasons that were clearly left ambiguous and unexplained – a great example being “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, which was refused certification for being too “lady oriented”. Again, the Hindustan Times has put together a very interesting list of films that had to endure the wrath of the censor board. Back in 2013, the Mudgal Committee was formed to re-examine the functioning of the Censor Board as well as issues such as the treatment of women in film, the portrayal of communal disharmony and of course, obscenity. In 2016, the Shyam Benegal committee was entrusted with the task of forming guidelines to aid in the proper certification of films, in an effort to remove ambiguities surrounding censorship. The committee’s report attempt to strike a balance between the protection against unsuitable content, while still laying a heavy focus on artistic content.
We suppose the real question is, whether it is genuinely possible to frame a system that would strive to maintain such a balance.