KOLKATA: The Supreme Court on Friday asked West Bengal to respond to a petition against its decision to ban screening of the film, The Kerala Story, observing that if the film was being shown in other states, there did not appear to be any reason why it could not be screened in West Bengal.
“If this movie can run across the country, West Bengal cannot be an exception. This film has been released throughout the country and West Bengal is not different from the rest of the country,” the bench of Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justice PS Narasimha said during Friday’s hearing into a petition by the film’s producers , M/s Sunshine Pictures Private Limited and Vipul Amrutlal Shah. against the ban.
The top court also issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government where theatre owners decided against screening the film fearing violence. “We would like to know from you (Tamil Nadu) the specific administrative arrangements made by you. We do not think the administration can say that we will look the other way when chairs are broken or theatres are attacked. It is a law and order problem,” a bench told the state’s additional advocate general Amit Anand who had insisted that security arrangements were already in place.
The two states have been told to respond to the petition ahead of the next hearing on Wednesday, May 17.
Senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for West Bengal told the court that the decision to ban the movie was taken after the state government received “huge intelligence reports” on possible breach of law and order and violence following its release on May 5.
Singhvi said that the state government had a “peculiar” power to ban the movie under Section 6(i) of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act. This section gives the state and the district magistrate to suspend or prohibit exhibition of a film which is likely to cause a breach of peace.
The bench saidout, “It (film) has been running in different parts of the country with similar demographic profile.” The Court told Singhvi, “If people don’t want to see the film, they will not see. Why should you not allow the movie to run. This has nothing to do with the artistic value of the film.”
Senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for the film producers said the West Bengal government banned the movie following a statement by chief minister Mamata Banerjee that there could be problems if the movie is screened as it portrays a certain community in bad light.
Salve also cited the decision of theatre owners in Tamil Nadu not to show the movie.
Prior to the movie’s release, petitions were also filed in the Supreme Court that sought a ban on the movie and the top court directed the petitioners to approach the Kerala high court where similar matters were pending.
On May 5, the Kerala high court refused to stay the movie’s release after the producers said they will issue a disclaimer to the effect that the movie is “fictionalised” and presents a dramatised version of events. The high court also the producers’ submission that they do not intend to retain an “offending teaser” which contained a statement that “32,000 women” from Kerala converted and joined a terrorist organisation.
The high court order was challenged by journalist Qurban Ali and is listed to come up for a hearing on Monday.
The fresh petition which was heard on Friday was filed by the film producers through advocate Yugandhara Pawar Jha. It argued that no state can cite “purported considerations of law and order” to ban a film duly certified for public exhibition by the Central Board of FIlm Certification (CBFC). “Any such ban would constitute an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India to engage in free speech,” the petition said.