Padmaavat controversy: Why did the producers of the film wait till the very end to appeal to SC?

Gautam Chintamani

Jan 18, 2018 18:27:51 IST

With the Supreme Court (SC) reportedly not only suspending the ban imposed on the release of Padmaavat by four states, but also restraining other states from issuing similar orders, there might not be any more trouble for the pan-India release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film on 25 January.

Represented by celebrated lawyers Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, the highest court in India noted that the banning of a film by states was akin to destroying federal structure.

For nearly a year now Bhansali’s film — that features Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor among others — has been inflicted with some trouble or other. In January last year, the film’s Jaipur shoot was disrupted after the crew was ‘attacked’, later in March the film’s sets in Kolhapur were vandalised and reportedly set on fire and later when the film missed its original release date in December 2017 there seemed to be no end in sight.

 Padmaavat controversy: Why did the producers of the film wait till the very end to appeal to SC?

Deepika Padukone in Padmavati.

The manner in which things have played out for all the parties involved in l'affaire Padmavati/ Padmaavat — such as Bhansali, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the state governments that wanted to impose a ban on the film’s release and also outfits representing the Rajput community — can be best described by a classic Billy Wilder quote. One of the greatest filmmakers ever, Wilder was known for leaving his indelible stamp on the screenplay of his films irrespective of who wrote them. Wilder once said, “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

The ban imposed on the release of the film by states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana despite the CBFC’s conditional clean chit, cited law and order concerns. It was believed that certain cinematic liberties taken by films such as Padmaavat that tread the ‘historical-fictional’ line could hurt the sentiments of the Rajput community.

Had the filmmakers clarified their stance that the film is a work of fiction much of what followed could have been avoided? Between January 2017 and the time the film was submitted for a Censor certificate the fact that the film is not a depiction of history was underscored, but when it reached the CBFC the paper was incomplete and it was not stated whether the film was ‘historical’ or ‘fiction.’

What made matters worse was the filmmaker’s decision to selectively screen the film for media organisations even before the CBFC viewed it.

If the SC is now upholding the CBFC’s decision then wouldn’t CBFC viewing the film before journalists tweeted about it added to the trust factor? The manner in which public personalities spoke about the film or television channels approved it for general consumption only added to the fears of the film somewhere distorting history.

Another question to ask is: why did the producers of Padmaavat wait till the very end to appeal to the SC regarding the ban on the release by some states or why was it not done when the first state, Rajasthan, set the precedent? This question could perhaps be put to the filmmakers as well; had they approached the SC at the right time, who knows the brakes could have been applied earlier.

The SC had dismissed a petition filed by Siddharajsinh Mahavirsinh Chudasama asking for a ban on the film in November 2017 and had also objected to persons holding public offices commenting on the release of the film while dismissing another petition, which was filed by ML Sharma; wouldn’t it have made greater sense for Viacom 18 to take legal recourse the moment a state mentioned ban?

While one sympathises with the intent behind the Rajput community’s protest — after all, Bhansali’s creative liberties, at times, have no limits — but there can be no excuse for any violence. Be it making the characters of Chandramukhi and Paro in Sarat Chandra's Devdas dance together, or when he altered details to make Kashibai and Mastani dance a la Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai, in Bajirao Mastani, the community has every reason to worry that figures that they reverie could be misinterpreted. Remember Peshwa Bajirao can be made to shake like a motorised head in ‘Dushman chi vat lavli’?

But once a film has been cleared by the CBFC there can be no other form of redressal but approach the Courts for relief.

States banning a film even after the CBFC has cleared a film is nothing new in India. Take the instance of Da Vinci Code, which was cleared by the CBFC but pressure from the Christian community, as well as the Muslim community in some places, saw seven Indian states ‘banning’ the film. The states that included Goa, Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab felt that movie was ‘blasphemous and offensive’ and might hurt the ‘emotions’ of the people of the minority community.

The reason cited for the ban was that content of the film could disturb the ‘peace and tranquility of the State’ and the film’s release was delayed in a few states where the SC’s judgment to show Da Vinci Code was being challenged. Days before the release most of the state High Courts ensured that the SC ruling was upheld and also imposed costs on state governments.

Perhaps the root of all the trouble, like Wilder suggested, lays in the first act namely, the Cinematograph Act 1952. Under this six and a half decade old law, the CBFC certifies films into a handful of existing categories and at times it often ‘suggests’ certain changes for a film to ‘fit’ into them. Could this be the bad first act? These suggestions can seem like diktats for a denial of certification from CBFC essentially means that the film cannot be screened.

In Padmaavat’s case, Prasoon Joshi’s, the CBFC chairman, suggestion of ‘5 modifications’ that included a title change, was interpreted in strange ways and some went to the extent of saying that there were 300 cuts. There has been a long overdue need for structural changes within the CBFC and a re-examination of the Cinematograph Act 1952, which might not have been updated in accordance with changes in the society, could be a great place to start.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 18:27:51 IST