Gangubai Kathiawadi | Can after certification granted by Board, public exhibition of a film be prohibited? Bom HC answers

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: In respect to petitions with regard to the release of movie Gangubai Kathiawadi, Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and M.S Karnik, J., while expressing that “Once the film is granted a certificate by the competent statutory authority, i.e. the Board, the producer or distributor of the film has every right to exhibit the film in a hall unless, of course, the said certificate is modified/nullified by a superior authority/Court”, held that, there cannot be any kind of obstruction for the exhibition of a film, which is certified unless the said certificate is challenged and Court stays its operation.

What was the Grievance?

Public Interest Litigations were filed not for stalling the release of the film Gangubai Kathiawadi, but the petitioners attempted to tinker with the freedom of expression of those behind the production of the film on the specious ground that a particular dialogue, the title of the film as well refer to a particular area as a red-light area would hurt the sentiments of the people belonging to the North-Eastern states of the country, people hailing from Kathiawad in Saurashtra, Gujarat and people residing in Kamathipura in South Mumbai.

Further, in one of the PIL it was pleaded that as per the trailer of the film, it was stated that the lead actress was seen to be visiting a dentist and the character of the dentist was played by an actor from the North-East and upon the dentist urging the actress to open her mouth wide, she responded by saying “PURA KA PURA CHINA MUH ME GHUSAYEGA KYA”. According to the petitioner, the said dialogue clearly and directly intended to connect the North-East person to China in spite of him being an India.

Hence the directions were sought upon the respondents 1 and 2 (Bhansali Production and Pen India Limited) to pull down/delete the trailer from YouTube and other social media platforms and to modify/delete the subject scene that was racist in nature, further respondent 3(Board) to carefully scrutinize the dialogue of the entire movie before issuing a certificate for the film as well as for stay of the release of the film until such modification/deletion is made.

Analysis and Discussion

High Court noted that the petitioner’s advocate did not seek the relief of stalling o release of the film but confined the grievance to use of the word “China”. As per the advocate, since the said dialogue had the potential of affecting the interest of the people of the North-Eastern region, the word “China” should either be deleted or muted.

Bench opined that the apprehension expressed by the petitioner in the PIL merely on viewing the trailer was based on wrong notion and thus ill-conceived.

However, since part of the scene which the petitioner perceived to be objectionable was said to depict the incidents of the fifties of the earlier century as Senior Advocate, Mr Kadam appearing for respondents 1 and 2 said that it was highly improbable that the character hailing from a rural background could have referred to our neighbouring nation as “China”. He added that a lot of research went into making the film, a deeper research would have given the film credibility.

“It is common knowledge that China was called Cheen in Hindi and the Chinese people Cheeni. One is immediately reminded of the slogan “Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai”, given by Pandit Nehru at or about the same time the incidents portrayed by the film relates to.”

Since it was the choice of the director/producer of the film to choose from the alternatives and the Board too having certified the film for public exhibition following the procedure prescribed in the Act, as it was not for this Court to suggest any modification.

Hence the above-said grievance was disposed of.

Another grievance apprehended by the petitioner was that the release of the film would bring grave harm to the womenfolk of Kamathipura and the image of the area would be lowered in public estimation.

Shruti Kapadi, Advocate submitted that the film does not carry any disclaimer regarding the usage of the words “Kathiawadi” and “Kamathipura and the social workers have worked for several years in order to uplift the people living in that area, the film ought to have been released with some grace for such place.

She further contended that the name “Kamathipura” must be deleted or else it would be akin to portraying Mumbai as a city where all women have low morals.

High Court stated that on consideration of the statutory provisions governing the field of certification of films for public exhibition and for regulating such exhibitions together with the several authorities cited at the bar the Court regretted to persuade itself to grant any relief to the petitioners.

Bench did not find an iota of material that certification of the film was granted by the Board without adhering to the Rules/Guidelines. The Court could not find any reference in the pleadings that any provisions of the Act, Rules and/or the Guidelines had been observed in the breach in granting certification for public exhibition of the film.

It was also noted that the petitioners did not allege any violation of their rights, either fundamental, Constitutional or statutory right, hence grant of relief was a far cry.

High Court remarked that,

Once a certificate is issued by the Board upon securing compliance of its directions for modifications in the form of excision/deletion/substitution etc., there cannot be any of obstruction for exhibition of a film which is certified.

Public exhibition can only be restrained by the Central Government if an approach is made under Rule 32 of the Rules read with Section 6 of the Act or upon a challenge being mounted to the certificate before a Court exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution and obtaining a stay of the certificate.

Bench added that any move of any body, group, association or individual to assume the position of the certificate granting authority has to be discouraged and nipped in the bud.

Elaborating further, the Court stated that, if “Kamathipura” was a red-light district at any point of time prior to the nation gaining independence or immediately thereafter, and is so referred to in the film, that would not automatically lead to the conclusion that the area remains to be so even after several decades of independence. 

Additionally, the Bench stated that the developments that took place over the years in the area could not be ignored and an opinion of nature be formed, which the petitioners apprehended.

Hence the PIL No. 5227 of 2022 and WP (L) 5235 of 2022 was also dismissed. [Hiten Dhirajlal Mehta v. Bhansali Production, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 372, decided on 23-2-2022]

Advocates before the Court:

Mr. Ashok Saraogi a/w Mr. Anand Mishra, Ms. Radhika Chamaria i/by Kruti Bhavsar for the petitioner in PIL(L) No. 4336 of 2022.

Ms. Dhruti M. Kapadia for the petitioner in PIL(L) No. 5227 of 2022.

Mr. Y. C. Naidu a/w Mr. Sarosh Damania, Mr. Nishank Barolia, Chaitravi Pai, Mr. Amol Surve and Afrin Shaikh for the petitioner in WP(L) No.5235 of 2022.

Mr. Ravi Kadam, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Parag Khandhar and Ms. Prachi Garg i/by DSK Legal for the respondent no.1 in PIL(L) Nos. 4336 and 5227 of 2022 and for respondent nos. 2 and 3 in WP(L) No. 5235 of 2022.

Mr. Ravi Kadam, Senior Advocate a/w Mr. Ameet Naik, Madhu Gadodia, Mr. Deepak Deshmukh i/by Naik Naik & Co. for respondent no.2 in PIL(L) Nos.4336 and 5227 of 2022 and for respondent nos.4 and 5 in WP(L) No. 5235 of 2022.

Mr. Anil C. Singh, Addl. Solicitor General a/w Mr. Advait M. Sethna, Mr. Aditya Thakker, Ms. Anusha Amin, Mr. Pranav Thackur, Mr. Tanay Mandot, Mr. Rangan Majumdar and Mr. Sandeep Raman for the respondents – C.B.F.C. and Union of India in all the matters.

Ms. Uma Palsuledesai, AGP for the respondent – State in PIL(L) No. 5227 of 2022.

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