Holding that “writs cannot be issued against artistic works premised on individual perceptions”, the Delhi High Court on Thursday dismissed a writ petition levelling allegations of glorification of the practice of ‘Sati’ against the controversial film ‘Padmaavat’, regarding it as “yet another device to interdict the exhibition of the film”.
The petition was premised on two recent articles in the Indian Express and the Wire, respectively, wherein the portrayal in the film has been criticised.
Dismissing the petition, the high court remarked, “... while the two persons authoring the articles relied upon by the petitioner have critiqued the film, clearly it is their view and perception regarding the film. The petitioner is entitled to form a similar opinion and agree with them. It is apparent that at the same time, there are several others who have considered the impact of the film from other perspectives and do not share the views the petitioner or the two authors...”
The petition, instituted around February 15, almost three weeks after the release of the film, sought the following relief-
“(i) issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ/order/direction directing the (CBFC) to take appropriate steps to stop glorification of the practice of ‘Sati’ by deleting the relevant scenes from the film “Padmaavat” and
(ii) issue a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ/order/direction directing the State Authorities to ensure that the scenes promoting and glorifying the act of ‘Sati’ are not screened in public; and
(iii) restrain the respondents from continuing to glorify the act of ‘Sati’ through promotion and further broadcast of the scenes relating to such act in the film “Padmaavat”; and
(iv) direct the (Delhi police) to immediately register F.I.R. against the (director and producers of the film) on the basis of the complaints filed by the petitioner; ...”
In dismissing the petition, the high court noted that the reference in Section 2(1)(b) of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987 is to an actual practice of “Sati” and not to a visual depiction of an imaginary work of fiction as portrayed in the film, and that in the disclaimers attached to the film, the makers have declared that the said film is a work of fiction and that it does not intend to promote Sati or similar practices.
The high court also observed that the CBFC been guided by the scheme of Sections 4 and 5A of the Cinematography Act of 1952 and the Guidelines for the Certification of Films for Public Exhibition in not issuing a ‘U’ certificate for unrestricted viewing but a ‘U/A’ certification.
The court also placed reliance on the recent judgments of the apex court in Viacom 18 Media v UoI (the ‘Padmaavat’ case) and Nachiketa Walhekar v CBFC (regarding the documentary on Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal).
Observing that “as on date, the film stands released as well without any complaint. The content of the film has, therefore, been in public domain for a long time. If at all the petitioner had any grievance, he could have placed the relevant material before the Board of Film Certification at an appropriate time,” the court dismissed the petition.