By Shilpa Jamkhandikar
MUMBAI (Reuters) – An Indian court has cleared the way for a Bollywood thriller about drug trafficking to open in cinemas this week after government censors attempted to thwart the movie’s release ahead of elections in a northern state where the film is set.
Monday’s judgment by the Bombay High Court brings the curtain down on a week of bickering between the film’s producers and the head of India’s censor panel over suggested cuts to “Udta Punjab”, which the film’s makers said removed its essence.
“I can only hope that films are viewed in context in the future,” the film’s director, Abhishek Chaubey, told reporters outside the court, saying he was “terribly pleased and relieved”.
Striking down all but one of the 13 cuts suggested by the censor board, the court ordered that “Udta Punjab” be issued an A – or adult – certificate for screening immediately. The film is scheduled to be released in cinemas on Friday.
A lawyer for the producers said they would voluntarily remove a shot of the film’s protagonist, a rock star, urinating into the crowd at a concert.
In a rare display of unity, Bollywood had rallied behind “Udta Punjab” co-producer Anurag Kashyap and the film’s cast to protest attempts by censor chief Pahlaj Nihalani to sanitize art and popular culture.
“I’m deeply stressed as a filmmaker, and I know I’m not alone. The censorship crisis, the moral policing, the politics of it has most of us on edge,” producer Karan Johar wrote in a column for news channel NDTV’s web site before the court’s ruling.
India has a history of censoring sexually explicit and politically sensitive content, and Bollywood is increasingly finding itself under scrutiny.
Nihalani, who produced films in the 1990s, made a campaign video that backed Narendra Modi’s successful bid in 2014 to become prime minister. He was later named chairman of India’s censor board after several members quit citing government interference.
The cuts suggested for “Udta Punjab” included removing the word “Punjab” throughout the film, deleting expletives or words like “election” and “parliament”, and bleeping out the name of a dog called Jackie Chan.
Kashyap has said the cuts were unacceptable. In a series of tweets last week, he called Nihalani an “oligarch” and compared India to reclusive North Korea.
Nihalani has said the film defamed Punjab and he challenged its claim that 70 per cent of its population was involved in substance abuse.
Punjab goes to the polls next year and is a crucial state for Modi, whose nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is junior partner to the regional party that runs it.
Opposition parties such as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have accused the Modi government of obstructing the film to divert attention from what Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called Punjab’s “crippling drug problem”.
(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Douglas Busvine)