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Supreme Court allows Padmaavat to be screened across India, stays bans

A scene from Padmaavat trailer. Source: Youtube

New Delhi, Jan. 18 (Agencies): The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for the national release of the controversial Bollywood film Padmaavat on January 25 after its producers went to court to fight bans by several states.

Padmavati, starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, ran into trouble last year after groups critical of the project accused its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by portraying a Muslim ruler as the “lover” of Rajput Queen Padmavati. The producers have denied this.

“We direct that there shall be a stay of operation on the notification and orders issued,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud said in its interim order, which barred similar measures by other states.

Rajasthan and Gujarat had banned the film, citing security threats, despite its clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Creative content, including theatre and cinema, are ”inseparable aspects” of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution, the bench said.

The court said states were under constitutional obligation to maintain law and order.

The court’s order was passed on a petition by Viacom 18 Media Pvt Ltd, one of the producers. Bhansali is the co-producer.

Haryana and Madhya Pradesh had not issued any formal order but had said they would not allow the film to be screened.

The film was renamed Padmaavat from Padmavati as suggested by the CBFC to reflect that the source material was a poem, rather than actual historical events.

Despite the stay on the ban, fears of protests, particularly by right-wing groups such as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, still overshadow screenings.

The group's leader, Sukhdev Singh, told reporters it would not allow the film to be released, while other groups have threatened to burn down theaters that show the film.

Members of hardline Hindu fringe groups, as well as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have criticised the film.

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the petitioners, said the states had no power to issue such notifications when CBFC has already given a certificate for its release.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, urged the bench that the matter should be heard either on Friday or on January 22 so that the states could go through all the documents and assist the court.

He said there were intelligence reports regarding law and order problem in these states in the event of exhibition of this movie.

He said the CBFC, while certifying the film, was neither supposed to know about the law and order situation, nor does it have the wherewithal to deal with it.

To this, the bench, which fixed the matter for further hearing on March 26, said it had left the matter relating to certification of the movie to the CBFC and the board has given it a certificate now.  

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