On March 9, even cynics had to admit that Indian democracy is a functioning one, when Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court, laid down a far-reaching judgement on censorship with regard to the documentary film Had Anhad (Bounded-Boundless).
In the matter of Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology vs the Chairperson, Central Board of Film Certification, documentary filmmaker Shabnam Virmani challenged the order dated 28 May 2010 passed by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT). The order upheld three of the four excisions to the film Had Anhad ordered by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) on 5th November 2009 while granting the film a “V/U” Certificate, which would allow unrestricted viewing.
Had Anhad is part of a series of four films (http://www.kabirproject.org/the%20films) around the legacy and teachings of the 15th century poet-philosopher Kabir, which Virmani says were “part of a larger project bringing together the experiences of a series of journeys in search of Kabir in the contemporary.” The journeys inquire into and express the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Kabir’s poetry in the form of documentary films, folk music videos, music CDs and poetry books.” In Had Anhad, the filmmaker journeys from Ayodhya to Malwa and Varanasi and across the border to Karachi, in search of “Kabir’s Ram”, the benevolent spirit, rather than the “militant Ram” (the deletion of “militant” was one of the cuts demanded).
The CBFC granted certificates of unrestricted exhibition to three of the four films, proposing minor changes which the filmmaker accepted. However, certain excisions were proposed to Had Anhad, with regard to utterances that allegedly “promoted communal disharmony”, referring to portions discussing the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Another cut demanded was the excision of the latter part of this sentence: “In recent Indian politics, Ram has been invoked by certain groups to consolidate Hindu identity and votes in divisive opposition to Muslims living in India and the neighbouring Islamic state of Pakistan.” The deletion was supposed to ensure that “friendly relations with foreign States are not strained.” The CBFC directed Virmani to carry out four excisions, without adequate hearing. It is this order that the petition challenged.
In a historic judgement granting Had Anhad a “V/U” certificate of unrestricted viewing by the CBFC without any of the excisions, and ordering the Respondent Union of India to pay the petitioners costs of Rs.10,000 within four weeks, Justice Muralidhar observed, “The film maker finds that Kabir‟s Ram is beyond legends and narratives. The film lends democratic space to the „speaking subject‟ and the „citizen viewer‟ to engage in a civilized debate on issues that are perceived to be contentious. It invites introspection into and the cleansing of prejudices from the inner recesses of a bigoted mind with the aid of Kabir’s words and thoughts. It demonstrates how the created barriers of regions, borders, languages, religions, nationalities and nations melt away in Kabir’s universal message of love and compassion. A viewer who stays to see the film till its end is unlikely to be left feeling hateful or vengeful towards any religion or community. The viewer might be impelled to contemplate on the futility of bigotry and violence. Viewed in this light, and in light of the settled constitutional law of the freedom of speech and expression, none of the excisions as directed by the CBFC, three of which have been upheld by the FCAT, are legally sustainable.”
(Text by Laxmi Murthy)