The petition seeking a ban on the trailer of the upcoming film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ has been dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Instead, the Delhi High Court has directed the petitioners to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the matter. The petition was filed by Pooja Mahajan, a Delhi based designer, through her lawyer, advocate Arun Maitri. The petition can be read here.

Maitri told MediaNama, “the Court is of the view that the matter is of public importance and that it requires the adjudication of a PIL.” The matter has been listed for hearing on January 9, 2018. “Now the issue has become much larger, the film is going to be released on January 11th. The issue will not be just about banning the trailer but banning the film also,” added Maitri.

Earlier, Mahajan had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking a direction to take down trailer of the movie from YouTube and Google. The petitioner alleged that the trailer is “affecting, harming the image of the Constitutional post of Hon’ble  Prime Minister of India and giving a bad name at the national as well as at the international level.”

The petitioner contends that:

  • The Prime Minister’s post is constitutionally protected and that under no circumstance can any individual, company or film producer have the liberty to defame the post.
  • The film certificate given by the CBFC is in contravention of the Section 416 of the Indian Penal Code which defines “impersonation” as an offence. Under this Section, a person is said to cheat by impersonation under the Section if they cheat by pretending to be some other person, or knowingly substitute one person for another or represent “he or any other person is a person other than he or such other person really is.” 
  • The filmmakers did not take consent or permission from Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi before performing their characters or copying them in any manner.
  • The trailer on YouTube is “motivated” and is “not based on the book of Sanjaya Baru.”
  • Rules were flouted on account of hidden agenda of political parties and “is clear from the Trailer where it specify- This Election Season.”
  • The trailer gives an impression that the Office of Manmohan Singh, during his tenure as PM was controlled by Sonia Gandhi, while Sanjaya Baru’s book never said so.
  • “Trailer is showing some documents of official files also in utter violation of Official Secret Act while Author-writer never dealt with this kind of issue.”
  • Trailer released on YouTube is in violation of Section 5B of the Cinematography Act and rule 38 of Cinematograph (Certification) Rules 1983.
  • The trailer has the propensity of inculcating hatred among those who believe in Constitution of India.

5B of the Cinemtography Act says that a film shall not be certified for exhibition if, in the opinion of the CBFC, the film or its part are against the interest of “the security of the State, friendly relation with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality…”

According to Rule 38 of Cinematograph (Certification) Rules 1983, any person advertising a film for exhibition must indicate in the advertisement the film has been certified for public exhibition.

A timeline of the events

  • April 20, 2014: Sanjaya Baru’s “The Accidental Prime Minister” released
  • June 06, 2017: First look of the film announced on actor Anupam Kher’s Twitter
  • June 08, 2017: Pahlaj Nihalani, the then Chairman of CBFC about the requirement of the No-Objection certificate from Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi
  • Dec 28, 2018: Official trailer of the film released
  • Dec 28, 2018 to Jan 01, 2019: CBFC gave certificate under Section 5B of the Cinematograph Act.

The Sacred Games and Lipstick Under My Burkha censorship cases

On July 11, advocate and petitioner Nikhil Bhalla filed a PIL in the Delhi HC asking for certain scenes to be deleted from the Netflix Sacred Games series. Bhalla said that these scenes were “derogatory to former PM Rajiv Gandhi.” Later, Bhalla, amended his petition to ask government to create a regulatory body for online streaming companies. The matter is pending before the court.

Last month, the Centre batted for freedom of Speech and Expression and told the Delhi High Court that MeitY cannot ask Netflix to remove the alleged objectionable reference to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in its Sacred Games series.

On August 15, 2017, Amazon Prime Video released the Lipstick Under My Burkha movie fully uncensored in India, incorporating over two minutes of the film which were cut in the theatrical release. The film had been initially rejected by the Censor Board for being too ‘lady-oriented’, so the producers successfully obtained a certificate for theatrical release by going to the FCAT.