The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the orders and notifications issued by Rajasthan and Gujarat governments prohibiting the screening of the controversial movie ‘Padmaavat’, clearing the decks for its nationwide release on January 25.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also restrained other states from issuing such notifications or orders prohibiting the exhibition of the film.
The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, observed that the states are obliged to maintain law and order.
“We direct that there shall be a stay of operation on the notification and orders issued and we also restrain other states from issuing such notifications or orders in this matter,” the bench said in its interim order.
During the hearing, the CJI observed, “the whole problem when exhibition of a film is stopped like this, my constitutional conscience shocks me”.
Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, representing Viacom 18 and other producers of the movie, told the bench that states have no power to issue such notifications banning exhibition of a film when the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given a certificate for its release.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing in March.
The producers had approached the top court challenging the notification and orders issued by four states– Gujarat Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh– prohibiting exhibition of the film.
The governments of Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had declared that they will not allow screening of the movie which stars Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh in lead roles.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, informed the bench on Thursday that the notifications and orders were issued only by the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Mehta urged the bench that the matter should be heard either tomorrow or on January 22 so that the states could go through the documents and assist the court.
He said there were intelligence reports regarding law and order problem in these states and the CBFC, while certifying the movie, might not have gone into these aspects.
“Freedom of Expression and Speech can never include distortion in our country,” the ASG said.
Salve countered his submissions and said that once the CBFC has granted certificate for the movie, the states cannot ban its exhibition.
“This is lawlessness. The states can’t say we have political obligations to cater to, so we will not allow screening of a film,” he said.
Salve referred to a 2011 judgement of the Supreme Court in director Prakash Jha’s case and said the top court had clearly held that states have a constitutional obligation to maintain law and order.
Rohatgi also submitted that states cannot act like a “super censor board” when the CBFC has already granted the certification for the movie.
“States have to maintain law and order. When the CBFC has passed the film, states can’t do it (Prohibit exhibition of film). They can’t be a super censor board,” Rohatgi said.
The bench noted in its order that creative content including theatre and cinema are inseparable aspects of Right to Freedom and Expression guaranteed under the Constitution.
The producers had submitted that the movie has undergone changes including in its title as suggested by the CBFC.
Asserting that the film has been cleared by the CBFC, the plea said the states cannot impose a blanket ban on a film and its screening can be suspended in a particular area or areas on account of law and order problem, not across the states.
Politicians of all hues, including some chief ministers, recently made public statements on the film, with some of them opposing it.
The film is based on the saga of the historic battle of 13th century between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi.
The set of the movie was vandalized twice — in Jaipur and Kolhapur, while its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was roughed up by members of the Karni Sena last year.