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The Indian movies industry is the largest entertainment sector in the world, with an annual production of more than 1500 movies in multiple languages released globally. The Indian entertainment industry is considered to be the most versatile, however, numerous movies become subject to censorship or public discontent, keeping the decades-old debate between freedom of speech and censorship ignited.
The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression equally to every individual in India and allows everyone to express their views, likings and dislikings openly, upholding the principles of democracy on which the nation was built. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, along with some reasonable restrictions on which the freedom can be curtailed.
These restrictions include security of the state, protecting sovereignty and integrity of India, maintaining the friendly relationship with foreign countries, maintaining public order, decency and morality, preventing contempt of court and defamation.
In the past few years, there has been the constant battle between freedom of expression and restriction on it in form of censorship and public disapproval. Movies have been and continue to be a subject of strict scrutiny, with movies like Lipstick Under My Burkha, Udta Punjab, Padmavati and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil making headlines for their extreme censorship and bans.
The main problem is narrowed down to cultural and religious groups despising the movies, political parties and professional organisations disparaging creativity and ideas of filmmakers. The recent row over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati has brought the entire issue of curtailment of expression and creativity by public disapproval. The Rajput community and politicians have raised objections about the way queen Padmavati is depicted in the movie and the filmmaker is accused of distorting history. The matter has escalated to such an extent that many states in India have banned the movie.
Protests and bans against movies in India is not an uncommon scenario. Movies often pass through the public guillotine before even getting a nod or rejection from CBFC. With censorship on their creativity, artistic space and freedom of expression are taken away from cinema-makers. Authorities often easily give into public threats of violence and in turn, they violate the filmmakers’ fundamental right.
Instead of putting it through a media trial before its release, it becomes important to let the Censor Board go through its certification process. Once the Board certifies the movie, no state should be allowed to ban the release based on protests and discontentment from a section of people. There needs to be a balance between censorship and freedom of speech, which only the CBFC can achieve.
Aggrieved section of people or religious communities have a right to protest the content of any piece of entertainment, however, the protest must be performed in a completely legal and constitutional way. Vandalism, threats and violence cannot be the measure to disapprove a movie’s content and curtain an artist’s creativity and expression. The judiciary also plays an important role in intervening whenever fundamental rights are directly or indirectly affected, ensuring that creativity and right to artistic expression are protected and preventing the damage caused to the economy and entertainment industry due to protests and mass violence.