By Sanchita Bera


All the melodramas filled with dialogues, dance, songs, actors and actresses, bring joy to the everyday monochromatic lifestyle of Indians. The place where these melodramas are showcased has been termed Bollywood. Not only in India, but across the world, people have their slice of life through these entertaining 'cinemas' (now we call them 'films'). Bollywood is said to be the biggest film industry racing beyond Hollywood, with an estimated income of Rupees 72 billion in 2020[1], although due to the pandemic situation, it has seen an inclined graph in its income, still, it has come a long way to the forth. The Indian film industry has valued at about 183 billion rupees in the financial year of 2020[2], which was half the amount it contributes economically to the Indian GDP due to the pandemic situation.

The success of the Indian Film Industry has captivated the stakes of many famous international entertainment companies. The 100-year history of Bollywood has enchanted many people across the globe. Bollywood stands as a unifying factor in India, bringing together people from diverse cultures, traditions, and languages. Despite many obstacles through stringent rules and regulations, India is said to produce 1500-2000 films per year, account for about 3.7 billion dollars per year[3]. Apart from Bollywood, regional films have equal contribution to the film industry in India, ranging from Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Bhojpuri.

The big black-hole controversies over Padmavati and Lipstick Under My Burkha kindled both debates, discussions, and violence over the issue of liberty versus so-called Indian cultural harm. But, amid this chaos, none have stopped to look back at our 'Preamble' and 'Constitution of India' which already guarantees 'liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship' and 'Article 19(1)(a): Freedom of speech and expression'. Questions arise, whether, after all these statistics, income, and jolly GDP growth does 'cinema' suffer from 'liberty of expression? Whether the bans faced by few films are justifiable under the Constitutional Freedoms? This article helps find the answers.

Reasons behind banning or restraining certain cinemas despite the presence of ‘Freedom of Expression’ envisaged in the Constitution

The preamble of our Indian Constitution starts with, "We the people… liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship" plainly speaks of 'freedom of expression', which means the preamble has given the freedom to every citizen to express himself/herself without having to restrain, while Article 19(1)(a) guarantees 'Freedom of Expression'. Both being in place, the freedom of the filmmakers is still curtailed. The reason might be the restriction imposed in the form of Article 19(2), which prevents the citizens from absolutely enjoying the fundamental freedom unwarranted. Article 19(2) permits the State to impose any reasonable restrictions on seven grounds, which are, security of the state, sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency, and morality, contempt of court, and defamation[4]. Therefore, any cinema can be banned or restrained only on the above-mentioned grounds. Cinemas like Neel Akasher Neechey of Mrinal Sen, a very popular Bengali filmmaker, were banned for two months, and the approach has been followed since 1959. Now, what can be the reasons behind banning the cinemas?

  1. Cinema’s which portray our country in sub-standard luminescence: the BBC’s documentary India’s Daughter (2015) was banned because the documentary incorporated interviews of the 2012 rapists of the Delhi gang-rape.

  2. Cinema’s which depict the Indian politician’s/leaders critical lifestyle: the movie Aandhi (1975) sketched the life of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was banned until the Emergency was over.

  3. Cinemas which limn communal violence: many cinemas were banned under this category of 'reason to ban', Parzania (2005), and Firaaq (2008) was banned in Gujarat because these cinema’s pictured Gujarat riots. Final Solutions (2004) was banned by the Centro Board because the documentary was extremely infuriating and could at any time set off communal violence.

  4. Cinema’s which might scrape in religious sentiments: the movie Da Vinci Code (2006) was banned because of the fear that the same might hurt the Christian community’s sentiments.

  5. Cinema’s which are censored because they illustrate obscenity: one of the most sought-after books ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ was not banned in India, but its cinema was, reasoning out that the same was based on the sexual theme and had nude scenes in it. A Tale of Love (1996) was banned, but the book Kama Sutra is effortlessly accessible in India. Another controversial cinema was The Bandit Queen (1994) which received ‘A’ grade certification, went up to the Supreme Court in Bobby Art International and Others. v. Om Pal Singh Hoon and Others.

  6. Cinema’s which pictures anathema themes, like homosexuality, transexual, etc.: cinema’s like Fire (1996) which portrayed two daughters-in-law in a lesbian relationship came under great scrutiny. Aligarh (2016) which depicted homosexuality was faced with perusal[5].

Many of the movies did face the judiciary turnstile, because of this very ‘reason of banning’.

Supreme Court’s stand on Cinema’s ‘Freedom of Expression’

The notion of free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) has many faces. The concept ‘expression’ has seen dynamic changes with the evolution of time and advancement in technology, the biggest example being ‘cinema’ as a form of ‘expression’ right from ‘black-n-white era’ to the ‘colour era’ and now ‘3-Dimensional era’. Since, ‘law is said to be an instrument of social change’, hence the term ‘expression’ has to go hand-in-hand with the changing times, and evolve itself (that is attach wider interpretation with the help of judgments). Just like, ‘the press’ even the ‘cinema’ has no separate fundamental right in India, they have ‘freedom of expression’ as a right guaranteed under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has pioneered itself, in attaching wider scope of interpretation to the term ‘expression’ through the following judgments:

  1. In the case of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India v. Cricket Assn. of Bengal, the Supreme Court stated that the term ‘expression’ under Article 19(1)(a) will include the right of every and any individual in India ‘to entertain and as well be entertained, that is the right of an individual to entertain the public and the public’s right to entertain themselves through the films[6].

  2. The Supreme Court in the case of Odyssey Communications (P) Ltd. v. Lokvidayan Sanghatana, held that just like a citizen has a right to publish his views, opinions, etc. through various media like newspapers, hoardings, advertisements, etc. similarly every citizen also has the right to evince cinema either in the State or National channel. This right has been flown from the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution[7].

  3. The Supreme Court in the cases of LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah, Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain, and Directorate General of Doordarshan v. Anand Patwardhan upheld the right to telecast films because the filmmakers have the 'right to the expression' guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), and cannot be denied except under the grounds of Article 19(2). The Court further stated that films are a means to portray emotions, feelings, messages, information, and ideas either for commercial or private purposes. This right cannot be taken away[8].

  4. In the cases of Ramesh v. Union of India, K.A Abbas v. Union of India, F.A Picture International v. Central Board of Film Certification, and Srishti School of Art, Design, and technology v. Central Board of Film Certification, the Supreme Court in clear and conspicuous words stated that the filmmakers not only have the right to entertain but also have the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) to educate and inform the film's spectators about the various historical events or social evils, nevertheless unpleasant the historical events might be[9].

  5. In the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, the Supreme Court stated that once the cinema does not fall under the restrictions embodied under Article 19(2), then the filmmaker's 'freedom of expression' cannot be curtailed. The 'act of ban' cannot in any circumstance be imposed through violent demonstrations, processions, threats, and blackmails. If done so, then the very concept of 'rule of law' would be in danger. The State is under the duty to uphold and shield the filmmaker's 'freedom of expression' and the same cannot be denied because the audience's hostile behavior cannot be prevented. The State is bound by its constitutional authority to both fortify and encourage creative arts[10].

So, one of the main issues as to whether the banning of the cinemas is justified under the reasonable restrictions of Article 19(2), or not can be answered only concerning where the ban has been imposed based on obscenity, public order, morality, or decency. If the ban has been foisted on the above grounds, then the same is justified. But again, what amounts to morality, decency, or obscenity varies from one person to another (that is its perspective, for one person a specific scene might be obscene, while for others it might not be). Hence, determining any banning of cinema on these grounds is quite a difficult task in the 21st Century, when everything is easily available on 'Internet Baba'. The other grounds of the ban like 'hurting religious sentiments' or 'portraying India in a denigrative mode' or 'fear of igniting communal violence' or 'tabooed subjects' are distinctly unjustifiable because such grounds do not fall under reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2), which can be used by the State or other similar authorities to ban or restrain the filmmakers right to entertain and the public's right to be entertained.


Through various judgments of the Supreme Court, one thing is clear, that there exists the ‘right to entertain’ and this right has the guard guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution in the form of ‘freedom of expression’, although the guard is not separate and has to be filtered from the said article. But the most important aspect is that the presence of ‘freedom of expression’ and the Supreme Court recognizing the same. As for the second issue, banning cinemas merely because of hollow sentiments, or too much importance attached to a specific culture or tradition, in this diverse country stands as a barrier in the field of creativity and arts.

One thing should not be forgotten that India is not only a country of traditions and cultures, but is also a country known for its arts and creativity, and blocking the same for the sake of pyrrhic views, will lead to not only loss of creativity, but also profits incurred out Bollywood to our National GDP (which is presently in negative). The banning of cinemas that uplift modern issues or culture (for example live-in relations, surrogacy, LGBTQ+) shows how backward we as a country are. There must be to some extent fluidity on such issues because banning or raising unnecessary issues or portraying violent behaviors will only make us look like a proverbial ostrich burying his head in the sand when he senses danger[11].

Also, banning cinemas that condemn the government or its policies or the social evils audibly shows how immature the system is to such creative arts. We must be mature enough to accept such criticism instead of striking down the entire cinema or blocking the same in certain States.

[1] Revenue of the film industry in India in 2020, STATISTA, (June 16, 2021, 08:25 PM) https://www.statista.com/statistics/627512/film-revenue-by-stream-india/ [2] Value of the film industry in India from the financial year 2014 tp 2019, with forecasts until 2024, STATISTA, (June 16, 2021, 08:32 PM), https://www.statista.com/statistics/235837/value-of-the-film-industry-in-india/ [3] ET Bureau, Film Industry in India to hit 3.7 billion dollars by 2020, says the report, The Economic Times, October 09, 2017, at A1. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/media/entertainment/media/film-industry-in-india-to-hit-3-7-billion-by-2020-says-report/articleshow/60998458.cms?from=mdr [4] INDIAN CONST. art. 19, cl 2. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/clamping-down-on-creativity/article17739798.ece [5] R.S Chauhan, Clamping down on creativity, The Hindu, March 30, 2017, at A1. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/clamping-down-on-creativity/article17739798.ece [6] MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN, FACETS OF MEDIA LAW 262 (2nd ed. 2015) [7] MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN, FACETS OF MEDIA LAW 262 (2nd ed. 2015) [8] MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN, FACETS OF MEDIA LAW 263 (2nd ed. 2015) [9] MADHAVI GORADIA DIVAN, FACETS OF MEDIA LAW 263-265 (2nd ed. 2015) [10] R.S Chauhan, Clamping down on creativity, The Hindu, March 30, 2017, at A1. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/clamping-down-on-creativity/article17739798.ece [11] R.S Chauhan, Clamping down on creativity, The Hindu, March 30, 2017, at A1. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/clamping-down-on-creativity/article17739798.ece

Author- Sanchita Bera


The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Faculty of Law, Vadodara

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