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Indian Case Summary

Bobby Art International, Etc vs Om Pal Singh Hoon & Ors on 1 May, 1996 – Case Summary

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In the case of Bobby Art International, Etc vs Om Pal Singh Hoon & Ors on 1 May, 1996, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to adjudicate a dispute involving the certification and exhibition of the film “Bandit Queen” in India. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of CJI, S.P. Bharucha, and B.N. Kirpal.

Facts of the Case

The film “Bandit Queen” is based on the life of Phoolan Devi, a woman who faced numerous hardships and brutalities in her life, including child marriage, rape, and humiliation at the hands of the police and dacoits. The film was based on a book written by Mala Sen called “India’s Bandit Queen”, which had been in the market since 1991 without objection.

On 17th August, 1994, the film was presented for certification to the Censor Board under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The Revising Committee recommended that the film be granted an ‘A’ certificate, subject to certain excisions and modifications. An appeal was filed against this decision before the Appellate Tribunal, which, after reviewing the film, granted it an ‘A’ certificate.

Issues Raised

The first respondent, Om Pal Singh Hoon, filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court seeking to quash the certificate granted to the film and to restrain its exhibition in India. He argued that the film was “abhorrent and unconscionable and a slur on the womanhood of India”. He also claimed that the film depicted his community, the Gujjars, in a depraved way, particularly in the scene of rape by a character named Babu Gujjar. He argued that the film violated his fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.

Court’s Observations and Judgment

The Delhi High Court allowed the writ petition, quashed the certificate granted to the film, and directed the Censor Board to consider the grant of an ‘A’ certificate to it after excisions and modifications in accordance with its order had been made. This decision was upheld by a Division Bench of the High Court.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment, referred to the guidelines issued under the Cinematograph Act and the principles laid down in previous judgments such as K.A, Abbas vs. the Union of India & anr., and Raj Kapoor & Ors. vs. State & Ors. The Court emphasized that the film had been scrutinized by the Tribunal, an expert body constituted for that purpose, and had passed the test of such scrutiny. The Court also noted that the Tribunal’s order was not vitiated by the use of the wrong tests.

The Supreme Court concluded that the film did not offend either Section 5-B of the Cinematograph Act or the guidelines issued thereunder. The Court held that the film did not deprave the morality of the audience and did not violate the freedom of speech and expression of the first respondent. The Court, therefore, set aside the judgment of the High Court and allowed the exhibition of the film in India.

This case is significant as it underscores the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and the need to safeguard public morality and decency. It also highlights the role of expert bodies like the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in making nuanced judgments about the content of films.