The Reel Controversy and Reality of ‘Udta Punjab’
*Originally published on BrownGirlMagazine.com | Udta Punjab Poster: Bollywood Hungama | Feature Image (Alia Bhatt): Bollywood Bubble
Phantom Productions and Balaji Motion Pictures’ film ‘Udta Punjab,’ directed by Abhishek Chaubey, has been through the wringer in the past few weeks due to disagreements with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahlaj Nihalani.
On June 6, the makers of the film were asked to make 89 cuts to the film by the CBFC, including removing the word ‘Punjab’ from the film entirely, stating that the film was attempting to portray Punjab and the Sikh community in a bad light.
In return, the actors, director, and producers involved with the film have said that drug addiction is a country-wide problem, but every story needs a backdrop, and for “Udta Punjab,” Punjab was the chosen backdrop. They have also pointed out statistics that support the fact that drug addiction remains a large issue in Punjab.
Nihalani also accused Phantom Productions’ producer Anurag Kashyap of accepting money from the Aam Admi Party to make “Udta Punjab” and of being affiliated with certain political parties. Kashyap denied the allegations stating that when political parties tried to get involved in his battle for the film’s release, he told them to stay out of it.
The board also asked for the removal of profanity, in addition to words relating to the government, such as “elections” and “parliament.”
The makers of the film had not received the formal letter with the list of cuts that they were verbally asked to make.
A public Indian Film and Television Directors Association meeting was held on June 8, where well-known filmmakers from the Hindi film industry, including Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, Mukesh Bhatt, and Mahesh Bhatt, spoke in support of the film and the freedoms that filmmakers should be able to have in a democracy which allows for freedom of speech.
That same day the filmmakers of “Udta Punjab” moved to the Bombay High Court to legally settle the matter, as they were unable to go to the Tribunal because they did not have the official letter from the CBFC stating the specific cuts that needed to be made.
On June 13, the Bombay High Court ruled in favor of the film, ordering for only one cut—the shot of Shahid Kapoor’s character urinating in front of a crowd—and a change to the disclaimer that would be placed at the beginning of the film. The court reminded the CBFC that their job is to certify films, not to censor them. The court then ordered the CBFC to certify the film with an ‘A’ rating for release within two days of the decision.
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) June 13, 2016
Am an eternal optimist…and I know that #UdtaPunjab has paved the way for cinema liberation….a filmmaker is reborn today in india…
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) June 13, 2016
#UdtaPunjab gives hope to honest film makers. Creative freedom will give us good cinema and stop the world from laughing at our films
— Arshad Warsi (@ArshadWarsi) June 16, 2016
— Dia Mirza (@deespeak) June 13, 2016
— Sophie Choudry (@Sophie_Choudry) June 13, 2016
And FINALLY #UdtaPunjab will flyyyyy!!Here’s to freedom of expression, to our judiciary, to the industry, to the media and to YOU ALL!! ❤️❤️
— Alia Bhatt (@aliaa08) June 13, 2016
In celebration of the court’s verdict, and to thank the press and the rest of the film fraternity for their contribution, a press conference was held on June 14 by the makers of the controversial film.
The film was also cleared by the Punjab and Haryana high court after a preview screening was ordered due to two petitions they received against the film.
What This Means for the Hindi Film Industry Going Forward?
The outcome of this legal case has been celebrated by the Hindi film industry as a win for creative freedom for filmmakers, hoping that this will set a precedent for future films as well. Kashyap has said in interviews that he hopes the battle for the release of “Udta Punjab” and its eventual win will prevent this type of issue from happening to other films tackling dark, gritty, or commercially-risky topics in the future.
This hopefully will allow writers, directors, and actors to experiment with novel concepts and story ideas, creating unique films where content is key. Knowing these films will likely not be shelved or banned by the courts, producers may be more inclined to financially back such films.
Another result of this court case that has been discussed at the numerous press conferences held for “Udta Punjab” is the unity that the Hindi film industry developed during this trying time for the filmmakers. This instance is a primary example of the change the industry can bring if they come together as one voice.
New Problems Arise…
With the legal battle over, the film ran into yet another problem. Early Wednesday morning, a version of the film was leaked online. Some links to the pirated copy of the film were reported to have crashed computer systems. Many of the links have been reportedly pulled offline. There have been allegations against the CBFC of leaking the film because the version of the film released was uncut and contained a “censor” watermark.
The CBFC has since denied these allegations. The producers of the film have filed a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell in Mumbai. The investigation is ongoing.
The industry has come together again on social media to ask audiences to avoid watching the pirated copy of the film. Kashyap took to Facebook asking people to hold off on downloading the film. He states that he has no issue with piracy, but would hope that the audiences would hold off downloading the film until Saturday, to not detract from the film’s Friday release.
I collaborated on this piece with another BG writer named Ravneet Kaur, who wrote about the reality of the drug problem in the Indian state of Punjab. The continuation of this article can be found on BrownGirlMagazine.com.