A controversial Indian film portraying drug abuse in the state of Punjab has finally reached the cinemas, but only after the courts intervened.
The film censor board initially asked that almost 100 cuts be made to the film ‘Udta Punjab’ or ‘Flying Punjab’ to edit out abusive language and seemingly offensive content.
But the filmmakers took their grievances to court, arguing the board was violating freedom of expression.
Jasvinder Sehgal has more.
The noon show of Udta Punjab has just ended at Raj Mandir Cinema in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The audience is coming out and they have mixed reactions to the film.
Neeraj Sharma, 40, a tourist from Punjab says he was impressed.
The film is a realistic portrayal of drug abuse in Punjab, he says, and of how drugs have destroyed the lives of young people in the state.
Local film critic, 32-year-old Sudheer Srivastava has a different view.
He says the film is perhaps, too open.
“Freedom of expression doesn’t mean that you exaggerate simple issues into something complex. The film only highlights the problem of drugs and doesn’t show any solutions to it. It is more a documentary than a feature film and lacks entertainment and glamour. And it is full of abusive words which are not necessary at all,” Srivastava said.
But Neeraj says the abusive language is central to the tone.
The abusive language he says, brings real ambience and originality to the film. Without them, it would have been a very different film.
Getting Udta Punjab in cinemas has been a huge process.
India’s Film Certification Board initially asked that 89 cuts be made to film before being suitable to air, mostly of the scenes that show the festering drug problem in Punjab, and the abusive language.
Noted filmmaker and chairman of the board Pehlaj Nihlani, explains.
“As all films are made for public viewing the government has issued guidelines. The members of the board strictly follow these to decide what is required and what is not. Since I have been chairman, 78 percent of the films have been released without any cuts,” Nihlani stated.
But the film’s producers fought back against the decision, challenging it at the High Court in Mumbai.
They argued the regulations around cinematography are out of date and such censorship would set a dangerous precedent for Indian filmmakers.
Anurag Kashyap is one of the producers of the film.
“The guidelines and the cinematographic act is now very old and needs to be changed under current circumstances. The act is old and stale and urgently needs to be amended. If such practice continues, producers will refrain from making movies,” Kashyap said.
And they won. The Mumbai High Court sided in their favor, calling for just one cut to be made to the film – a scene showing a character urinating – and for the film to run with three disclaimers.
Shahid Kapoor, the hero of the film, says the decision is a win for democracy and the artistic expression in India.
“The larger cause of this film is telling people that the drugs are not good for you. And you cannot create awareness unless you speak the truth. It’s like that when you go to a doctor and you have an illness, and if he tells you only twenty percent about what’s wrong with you, you will not take it seriously. It’s the same thing when the problem lies in the society; you have to speak about it honestly,” Kapoor commented.
The film is also set to play in neighboring Pakistan, but unlike here in India, the film will hit the silver screens with 100 cuts to ‘objectionable’ content.