The Supreme Court on Friday asked the West Bengal government to ensure that there is no obstruction to the viewing or screening of the film ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ (Future Ghosts) which, its producers alleged, was taken off screens following pressure from the state administration.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, which heard the petition by the producer, “specifically directed” the “Chief Secretary and the Principal Secretary, Department of Home, Government of West Bengal to ensure that no obstruction or restraint of any kind whatsoever is imposed on the viewing of the film or on the film being screened in theatres”.
It also asked the “Chief Secretary, the Principal Secretary, Department of Home and the Director General of Police, State of West Bengal to ensure that adequate arrangements for security are made to facilitate the screening of the film and to ensure that the viewers and the audience are not endangered and there is no danger to the property of the theatres where the film is being or will be screened”.
The court was hearing a plea by the film’s producers Indibily Creative Pvt Ltd and the company’s directors Kalyanmoy Chatterjee and Indira Unninayar seeking its intervention. They alleged that the state government through the police “is obstructing the film from being exhibited in the Cinema Halls of Kolkata in a highly back-handed and arbitrary manner” and “in gross violation of Supreme Court rulings”.
Issuing notice on the petition, the court said it had on many occasions “held that once a film has been duly certified by CBFC, it is not open to any authority either of the State Government or otherwise to issue formal or informal directions preventing the producer from having the film screened” and that “such actions of the State directly impinge upon the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India”.
Film director Anik Dutta said he was happy that the apex court had upheld the petition’s contention. “The viewers should have the freedom to watch a movie and judge it. We are happy the audience will get a chance to see it,” Dutta told The Indian Express over the phone.
The petitioners said that on February 11, they received a letter from the State Intelligence Unit (SIU) of Kolkata Police asking for a pre-screening of the film. It also said the police had received intelligence inputs “that the contents of the film may hurt public sentiments which may lead to political law and order issues”.
The producers responded saying the film had already been cleared by the CBFC. “The State of West Bengal is misusing police power and acting as a ‘super-censor’ sitting atop the CBFC and is violating the petitioners’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Indian Constitution through the Kolkata Police which is under the Department of Home,” the plea submitted.
The petitioners said that prior to its national release, the film was released in Kolkata and some districts of West Bengal on February 15 and “was by and large well received”.
“However, by the evening of 16.2.2019, without any communication from the exhibitors, the Producers received
information that the Film was abruptly and suddenly taken off the majority of cinema halls and viewers were being refunded their tickets”, the plea said, adding that on inquiry, it came to light that this was on the instruction of “unnamed higher authorities”.
(With inputs from ENS Kolkata)