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From 89 cuts to one cut: Freedom of speech wins the Udta Punjab battle

By Maitreyee Boruah

Of late, we are witnessing how politicians and government machineries are working hand in glove to control what we eat, say, watch or wear.

At times, our right to love a person of our choice also comes in direct conflict with the prescribed social norms-hardly backed by any law books.

Udta Punjab

These kinds of conflicts are in direct contradiction with the dream to make India a world superpower. It seems the Aam Aadmi (the common man) has lost his/her discretion to lead a free life without any interference from the state machineries.

During such a slippery stage of our lives comes a Bollywood movie-Udta Punjab. If not for its content or style of filmmaking, the directorial venture of Abhishek Chaubey will be always remembered for its bitter battle against censorship laws in the country.

Thankfully, after the Bombay High Court on Monday (June 13) cleared the film with just one cut, as opposed to 89 cuts proposed by the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC), we can proudly say it is a major victory for freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech upheld

Freedom of speech and expression is the most basic of all freedoms granted to the citizens of India in the Constitution. It allows us to freely express our ideas and thoughts through any medium such as print, visual, and voice.

The upcoming film faced harsh "scissor cuts" from the censor board. The chairperson of the CBFC Pahlaj Nihalani proposed 89 cuts and removal of any reference to Punjab from the film, including the title, before it could be released across the country.

The makers of the film, including its co-producer Anurag Kashyap--who himself is a film director--vehemently opposed the decision of the censor board to muzzle the "creative voice" of the director.

Hence the cast and crew of the film knocked at the door of the Bombay High Court to get justice.

"None can dictate to the maker how to make his film and what should be the context...It is entirely for them to choose the setting, the under-lying theme and storyline," the court observed.

The court, without mincing any words, honoured the right of filmmakers to make films on subjects of their choices and they have all the freedom to tell stories in their own individual styles.

Drug abuse: Politicians drunk on power

In the crux of the controversy lies the large-scale spread of drug abuse in Punjab--the subject of Udta Punjab. The members of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Punjab alleged that the film showcases the state in a bad light.

As the assembly elections are scheduled in Punjab in January 2017, the film became a battle ground for SAD-BJP alliance on one hand and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress on the other.

Allegations and counter-allegations flew thick and fast. There were allegations that the film was produced by AAP to defame the ruling parties in Punjab.

The AAP is contesting the upcoming assembly elections and its leaders continuously spoke against the failure of BJP-SAD alliance to curb the drug menace in the state. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi kick-started the party's election campaign in Punjab by talking against prevalence of substance abuse on Monday.

"The government here encourages the drug trade because it benefits them. We can solve the problem in one month if we are voted to power," Gandhi said.

"All that needs to be done is give the police a free hand. Free them from the clutches of the Akalis. Once that is done, the business of drugs can be ended in four weeks," the Congress leader added.

Udta Punjab is a film, not a political propaganda

The Bombay High Court has a message for those who alleged that the film is a propaganda strategy of rivals to attack the ruling parties in Punjab. "The film is not made keeping in mind elections in Punjab," the court stated.

The HC also has a message for the censor board which has come under sharp criticism for taking arbitrary decisions on behalf of the audiences.

"Punjab is the land of warriors, freedom fighters and martyrs. The censor board need not be so over-sensitive in a matter of art," stated the HC. It also asked the censor board to not act like a grandmother and change as per times.

The film--which has generated so much curiosity among the movie-buffs-because of its makers' battle with the censor board will finally be subjected to audiences' scrutiny. After all, no one but the audiences should have the final say on a film.

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