The Supreme Court, on Thursday, 18 May, stayed the West Bengal government’s order banning the screening of the film The Kerala Story.
It also asked the Tamil Nadu government to ensure the safety of moviegoers following reports that theatre owners had to stop screening the film due to security concerns.
A bench — headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud — also directed the producer to add a disclaimer in the movie before 5 pm on 20 May regarding the claim that 32,000 Hindu and Christian women were converted to Muslims.
According to the apex court, the disclaimer should say that “there is no authenticated data to back up the suggestion on the figure of conversion and the film represents a fictionalised version”.
The bench also said that it would like to watch the movie before proceeding to decide on the pleas challenging the granting of the censor certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
It said that the petitions would be heard in the second week of July.
Appeal before CBFC, Salve tells petitioners
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for the film producer Sunshine Productions, cited the Madras High Court’s suggestion to appeal before the CBFC against the film.
He stated before the bench that none of the petitioners had opted to appeal before the CBFC.
“The statutory authority to certify a film for public exhibition is vested in the CBFC under the Cinematography Act 1952. Sections 5A and 5B provide a statutory code for the examination and certification of films of public exhibition,” said Salve.
He cited various judgements to say that the true purpose of art was to question and provoke. “In fact, my lord, art has to be provocative,” he said.
Speaking about the Tamil Nadu government’s affidavit, Salve said, “We have this completely spurious excuse saying that people didn’t like the movie. However, before it was removed (from theatres), it was screened with 94 percent capacity.”
He also informed the bench that “there was a teaser which had said that 32,000 incidents had happened, but that teaser has been taken off long ago”.
Although Salve initially defended the disclaimer of the movie, later, during the hearing, the counsel conceded that the disclaimer would be altered.
He suggested an alteration of the disclaimer and stated before the bench that “the disclaimer should say that there is no authentic data to back up the figure of 32,000 or any other figure (mentioned in the movie)”.
Art form subject to Article 19(2): Sibal
Kapil Sibal, who appeared for Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, submitted before the court that art forms are subject to Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which talks about reasonable restrictions.
“Only when you see the movie you will know what part of it should be taken out and what should not be taken out. These are serious things that impact millions of people. The art form is also subject to 19(2),” Sibal told the bench.
“Please watch the film. There is no point in legal sophistry,” he said.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi also informed the court about the various instances in the film where the Muslim community is vilified. He urged the court to act quickly as the delay could cost larger ramifications.
Ensure the safety of moviegoers: SC
The bench also took note of submissions that there was no ban on the film in Tamil Nadu and asked the state government to ensure the safety and security of moviegoers.
During the hearing, it said that statutory provisions could not be used to “put a premium on public intolerance”.
The bench said that it is the duty of the state government to maintain law and order as the film has been granted certification by the CBFC.
“The legal provision cannot be used to put a premium on public intolerance. Otherwise, all films will find themselves in this spot,” the bench, also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, said during the hearing.
While pronouncing the judgement orally, Chief Justice Chandrachud said, “The order of the additional secretary of West Bengal shall remain stayed.”
I am awaiting justice: Petitioner
Soon after the Supreme Court’s decision, Aravindakshan R, a petitioner who had approached the apex court to ban the movie, spoke to South First.
He said, “The case has been adjourned to July second week. Our plea is different from the Tamil Nadu government. The government is saying there will not be a ban in Tamil Nadu, but I am seeking a de facto ban. I am awaiting justice, I hope when the Supreme Court judges watch the movie, they will understand the truth.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Madras High Court dismissed the PIL filed by Aravindakshan seeking a ban on the controversial movie.
When the film’s teaser was released, the Chennai-based journalist had written to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, urging him to initiate action against the film, unless the makers produced relevant supportive documents to back their claim.
The Kerala Story, starring Adah Sharma, was released in cinemas on 5 May.
Directed by Sudipto Sen, the film claims women from Kerala were forced to convert to Islam and recruited by the terror group Islamic State (IS).
(With PTI inputs)