Art International, Vs. Om Pal Singh Hoon & Ors  INSC
635 (1 May 1996)
S.P. Bharucha , B.N. Kirpal Bharucha, J.
APPEAL NOS. 7523, 7525-27 AND 7524 (Arising out of SLP (Civil) No. 8211/96, SLP(Civil)
No. 10519-21/96 (CC No. 1828-1830/96 & SLP(C) No. 9363/96)
appeals impugn the judgment and order of a Division Bench of the High Court of
Delhi in Letters Patent appeals. The Letters Patent appeals challenged the
judgment and order of a learned single judge allowing a writ petition. The
Letters Patent appeals were dismissed, subject to a direction to the Union of
India (the second respondent). The writ petition was filed by the first
respondent to quash the certificate of exhibition awarded to the film
"Bandit Queen" and to restrain its exhibition in India.
film deals with the life of Phoolan Devi. It is based upon a true story. Still
a child, Phoolan Devi was married off to a man old enough to be her father. She
was beaten and raped by him. She was tormented by the boys of the village; and
beaten by them when she foiled the advances of one of them. A village panchayat
called after the incident blamed Phoolan Devi for attempting to entice the boy,
who belonged to a higher caste. Consequent upon the decision of the village Panchayat.
Phoolan Devi had to leave the village. She was then arrested by the Police and
subjected to indignity and humiliation in the Police station. Upon the
intervention of some persons she was released on bail; their intervention was
not due to compassion but to satisfy their carnal appetite. Phoolan Devi was
thereafter kidnapped by dacoits and sexually brutalised by their leader, a man
named Babu Gujjar. Another member of the gang, Vikram Mallah, shot Babu Gujjar
dead in a fit of rag while he was assaulting phoolan Devi. Phoolan Devi was
attracted by Vikram Mallah and threw her not in with him. Along with Vikram Mallah
she accosted her husband, tied him to a tree and took her revenge by brutally
beating him. One Sri Ram, the leader of a gang of Thakurs, who had been
released from jail, made advances to Phoolan Devi and was spurned. He killed Vikram
Mallah. Having lost Vikram Mallah's protection, Phoolan Devi was gang-raped by
Sri Ram, Lalaram and others. She was stripped naked, paraded and made to fetch
water from the village well under the gaze of the villagers, but no one came to
her rescue. To avenge herself upon her persecutors, she joined a dacoits gang
headed by Baba Mustkin. In avenging herself upon Sri Ram, she humiliated and
killed twenty Thakurs of the village of Behmai. Ultimately, she surrendered and
was in jail for a number of years.
have not viewed the film. The story thereof as set out above comes from the
judgment under appeal.) The film is based on a book written by Mala Sen called
"India's Bandit Queen". The book has
been in the market since the year 1991 without objection.
On 17th August, 1994, the film was presented for
certification to the Censor Board under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. The Examining
Committee of the Censor Board referred it to the Revising Committee under Rule
24(1) of the Cinematographic (Certification) Rules, 1983. On 19th July, 1995, the Revising Committee recommended
that the film be granted an 'A' certificate, subject to certain excisions and
modifications. (An 'A' certificate implies that the film may be viewed only by
by the decision of the Revising Committee, an appeal was filed under Section SC of the Cinematographic Act before the Appellate Tribunal. It is
constituted by virtue of the provisions of Section 5C of the Cinematograph Act
and consists of the Chairman and members who "are qualified to judge the
effect of films on the public". In the present case the tribunal was
chaired by Lentin. J., a retired Judge of the Bombay High Court, and three
ladies, Smt. Sara Mohammad, Dr. Sarayu V. Doshi & Smt. Reena Kumari, were
Tribunal's order states that the film "portrays the trials and
tribulations and the various humiliations (mental and physical) heaped on her (Phoolan
Devi) from childhood onwards, which out of desperation and misery drove her to dacoity
and the revenge which she takes on her tormentors and those who had humiliated
and tortured and had physically abused her.
The tone and tenor of the dialogues in this film reflect the nuances locally
and habitually used and spoken in the villages and in the ravines of the Chambal,
not bereft of expletives used for force and effect by way of normal and common
parlance in those parts; these expletives are not intended to be taken
literally. There in nothing sensual or sexual about these expletives used as
they are in ordinary and habitual course as the language in those parts and
express as they to emotions such as anger, rage, frustration and the like, and
represent as they do the color of the various locales in this film." The
tribunal accepted the argument of the appellant before it in respect of certain
scenes where excisions or modifications had been required. We shall restrict
ourselves to the Tribunal's findings on the observations relating to the film
as a whole. A scene of policemen hitting Phoolan Devi with the butt of a gun
had been ordered to be deleted;
Tribunal said that the deletion "would negate the very impact of this film
in its endeavour to depict the maltreatment and cruelty heaped upon the victim
by the perpetrators, which resulted in the former turning her face against, and
seeking revenge on, the perpetrators of her humiliation and degradation.
Deletion or even reduction of this sequence which follow, as it would also
leave the average audience bewildered as to the intensity of the bitterness the
victim right feels towards her tormentors." Another scene dealt with the
rape of Phoolan Devi by Babu Gujjar. The sequence was in three parts and the
appellant had volunteered to reduce the first two sequences "to the bare
cinematic necessity": the Tribunal did not accept this, having ascertained
what was meant. It directed that the second of the three sequences be deleted
altogether, and that there be a reduction by 30% of the first sequence and by
20% of the third sequence, with the qualification that the visuals of the man's
bare posterior in the first and third sequences be reduced to a flash.
Exception was taken before the Tribunal to the direction to reduce by 70% the
sequence of Phoolan Devi torturing her husband. The Tribunal found that the
sequence brought to the fore the ferocity of Phoolan Devi's hatred and
revulsion towards the man who drove her to being the hunted dacoit she became. Phoolan
Devi's pent-up anger, emotions and revulsion were demonstrated in the scene. It
was a powerful scene the reduction of which would negate its impact. Much
emphasis was laid before us upon the fact that Phoolan Devi is shown naked being
paraded in the village after being humiliated.
Tribunal observed that these visuals could but create sympathy towards the
unfortunate woman in particular and revulsion against the perpetrators of
crimes against women in general. The sequence was an integral part of the
not sensual or sexual, and was intended to, as indeed did, create revulsion in
the minds of the average audience towards the tormentors and oppressors of
women. "To delete or even to reduce these climactic visuals", the Tribunal
said, "would be a sacrilege". It added, "4.9.1. While
recommending the deletion of the visuals aforestated, perhaps the Revising
Committee momentarily aforestated, perhaps the Revising Committee momentarily
forgot "Schindier's List" which was passed by the Board without a cut
and despite prolonged sequences of frontal nudity of men and women depicted
therein, and rightly so because the scenes of frontal nudity in that film were
intended to create a feeling or revulsion and a sense of horror that such
crimes could indeed be committed. Likewise in the present film." The
Tribunal permitted certain words of abuse in the vernacular to be retained
because of the context in which they were spoken and the persons by whom they
were spoken: "spoken as they are as colloquially and as part of their
daily life, it would be unfair on our part to castigate the use of these words
which we would otherwise have done".
the basis of this unanimous order of the Tribunal, the film was granted an 'A'
On 31st August, 1995, the film was screened, with
English sub-titles, at the Siri Fort Film Festival of India with the permission
of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. From 25th January, 1996, onwards, the censored film was
open to public viewing at various cinema theatres in the country.
On 27th January, 1996, the first respondent filed the
writ petition before the Delhi High Court seeking to quash the certificate
granted to the film and to restrain its exhibition in India. The first respondent stated in the
writ petition that the was a Hindu and Gujjar by caste. He was the president of
the Gujjar Gaurav Sansthan and involved in the welfare of the Gujjar community.
He had seen the film when it was exhibited at the International Film Festival;
he had felt aggrieved and his fundamental rights had been violated. Though
audiences were led to believe that the film depicted the character of "a
former queen of ravings" also known as Phoolan Devi, the depiction was
"abhorrent and unconscionable and a slur on the womanhood of India". The petitioner and his
community had been depicted in a most depraved way specially in the scene of
rape by Babu Gujjar, which scene was "suggestive of the moral depravity of
the Gujjar community as rapists and the use of the name Babu Gujjar for the
principal villian lowered the reputation of the Gujjar community and the
petitioner. It lowered t he respect of the petitioner in the eyes of society
and his friends. The scene of rape was obscene and horrendous and cast a slur
on the face of the Gujjar community. The film went beyond the limits of decency
and lowered the prestige and position of the woman in general and the community
of Mahallas in particular. The first respondent had been discriminated against
and Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution had been violated.
learned Single Judge allowed the writ petition and quashed the certificate
granted to the film. He directed the Censor Board to consider the grant of an
'A' certificate to it after excisions and modifications in accordance with his
order had been made. Till a fresh certificate was granted the screening of the
film was injuncted.
Division Bench, in the judgment under appeal, upheld the view taken by the
learned single Judge. Having viewed the film, it examined it in regard to three
first dealt with the frontal nudity scene. The scene, the Division Bench said,
ran for a full two minutes. The heroine was stripped totally naked in the gaze
of about a hundred villagers standing in a circle at a distance around a well
and she with her front, including her private parts, exposed. The Division
Bench noted the findings of the Tribunal in regard to this scene (which have
been referred to above) and held, "In the face of a finding by the
Appellate Tribunal of the scene creating revulsion, the only inference could
have been that the scene of total frontal nudity from top to toes was
'indecent' within Section 5-B and Article 19(2)." The scene also offended
the guidelines in para 2(ix), para 2(xi) and para 2(vii). The second aspect
that was considered by the Division Bench was that which showed the naked
posterior of Babu Gujjar in the rape scene.
noticed by the Division Bench by stop watch, this scene ran for about 20
seconds. It showed sexual intercourse by man and his physical movement, with
his posterior exposed.
High Court took the view that the direction of the Tribunal that the posterior
should be shown as a flash was inconsistent with retention of 70% and 80% of
the first and third sequences as directed by the Tribunal. The scene of violent
rape was disgusting and revolting and it denigrated and degraded women. The
third aspect that the High Court concerned itself with was the use of
expletives and it concluded that they should be deleted. Over-all, the Division
Bench was of the view that the Tribunal's order was vitiated by the use of the
5-B of the Cinematograph Act, which echoes Article 19(2), states that a film
shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the
authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is
against the interests of, inter alia, decency. Under the provisions of
sub-section (2) of Section 5-B the Central Government is empowered to issue
directions section out the principles which shall guide the authority competent
to grant certificates in sanctioning films for public exhibition.
guidelines earlier issued were revised in 1991. Clause (1) thereof reads thus:
The objectives of film certification will be to ensure that –
medium of film remains responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of
expression and creative freedom are not unduly curbed;
is responsive to social change;
medium of film provides clean and healthy entertainments; and
far as possible, the film is or aesthetic value and cinematically of a good
standard." Clause (2) states that the Board of Film Censors shall ensure
that- "(vii) human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity
xxx (ix) scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented:
scenes involving sexual violence against women like attempt to rape, rape or
any form of molestation or scenes of a similar nature are avoided, and if any
such incident is germane to the theme, they shall be reduced to the minimum and
no details are shown;
xxx Clause (3) reads thus :
Board of Film Certification shall also ensure that the film- (1) is judged in
its entirety from the point of view of the overall impact; and (ii) is examined
in the light of the period depicted in the film and the contemporary standards
of the country and the people to which the film relates, provided that the film
does not deprave the morality of the audience." Learned counsel for the
appellants submitted that the film had been scrutinised by the Tribunal, which was
an expert body constituted for that purpose, and it had passed the test of such
scrutiny. It was emphasised that three members of the four-member Tribunal were
ladies and they had not found anything offensive in the film as certified for
adult viewing. The guidelines, it was submitted, required the film did not
offend either Section 5-8(i) or the guidelines. The submission of learned counsel
for the appellants was supported by the learned Additional Solicitor General,
appearing for the Union of India. Dr. Koul, learned counsel for the first
respondent, submitted that the machinery under cinematograph act was only for
those who had some concern with the making of the film and that citizens who
were offended by it were free to approach the High Court under Article 226.
There were compelling reasons for the High Court to pass the order that it did
not for the film was abhorrent. What had also to be considered were the
individual episodes and the episodes depicting full frontal nudity, rape and
the use of swear ward offended the requirements of sub-clauses (vii), (ix) and
(x) of the guidelines. The film violated the freedom of speech and expression
of the first respondent.
decision of the court most relevant to the appeals before use was delivered by
constitution Bench in K.A, Abbas vs, the Union
of India & anr., (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780. It
related to a documentary film entitled "A Tale of Four Cities". The
appellant contended in a petition under Article 32 that he was entitled to a
certificate for unrestricted public exhibition thereof. What Hidayatullah, C.J.
speaking for the Court, said needs to be reproduced:
We may now illustrate out meaning how even the items mentioned in the
directions may figure in films subject either to their artistic merit or their
social value over-weighing their offending character. The task of the censor is
extremely delicate and his duties cannot be subject of an exhaustive set of
commands established by prior ratiocination.
direction is necessary to him so that he does not sweep within the terms of the
directions vast areas of thought, speech and expression of artistic quality and
social purpose and interest. Our standards must be so framed that we are not
reduced to a level where the protection of the least capable and the most
depraved amongst us determines what the morally healthy cannot view or read.
The standards that we set for our censors must make a substantial allowance in favour
of freedom thus leaving a vast area for creative art to interpret life and
society with some with some of its foibles along with what is good. we must not
look upon such human relationships as banned in toto and for ever from human
thought and must give scope for talent to put them before society. The
requirements of art and literature included requirements of art and literature
include social life and not only in its ideal from and the line is to be drawn
where the average moral man begins to feel embarrassed or disgusted at a naked
portrayal of life without the redeeming touch of art or genius or social value.
If the depraved begins to see in these things more than what an average person
would, in much the same way, as, it is wrongly said, a Frenchman sees a woman's
legs in everything, it cannot be helped. In our scheme of things ideas having
redeeming special or artistic ideas having redeeming social or artistic value
must also have importance and protection for their growth. Sex and obscenity
are not always synonymous and it is wrong to classify sex as essentially
obscene or even indecent or immoral. It should be our concerned, however, to
prevent the use of sex designed to play a commercial role by making its own
appeal. This draws in the censor's scissors. Thus audiences in India can be expected to view with
equanimity the story of Oedipus son of Latius who committed patricide and
incest with his mother. when, No one after viewing these episodes would think
that patricide or incest with one's own mother is permissible or suicide in
such circumstances or tearing out one's own eyes is natural consequence. And
yet if one goes by the latter of the directions the film cannot be shown.
Similarly, scenes depicting leprosy as a theme in a story or in a documentary
are not necessarily outside the protection. It that were so Verrier Elwyn's Phulmat
of the Hills or the same episode in Henryson's Testament of Cressaid (from
where Verrier Elwyn borrowed the Idea) would never see the light of the day.
Again carnage and bloodshed may have historical value and the depiction of such
scenes as the Back of Delhi by Nadirshah may be permissible, if handled
delicately and as part of an artistic portrayal of the confrontation with
Mohammad Shah Rangila. If Nadir Shah made golgothas of Skulls, must we leave
them out of the story because people must be made to view a historical them
without true history? rape in all its nakedness may be objectionable but
Voltaire's Candide would be meaningless without Cunegonde's episode with the
soldier and the story of Lucrece could never be depicted on the screen.
Therefore it is not the elements of rape, leprosy, sexual immorality which
should attract the censor's scissors but how the theme is handled by the producer.
It must, however, be remembered that the cinematograph is a powerful medium and
its appeal is different.
horrors of war as depicted in the famous etching of Goya do not horrify one so
much as the same scenes rendered in colour and with sound and movement would
do. We may view a documentary on the erotic tableaux from our ancient temples
with equanimity of read the Kamasutra but documentary from them as a practical
sexual guide would be abhorrent.
have said all this to show that the items mentioned in the directions are not
by themselves defective. We have adhered to the 43 points of T.P. O' Connor
framed in 1918 and have made a comprehensive list of what may not be shown.
Parliament has left this task to the Central Government and in out opinion,
this could be done, But Parliament has not legislated enough, not has the
Central Government filled in the gap.
has separated the artistic and the socially valuable from that which is
deliberately indecent, obscene, horrifying or corrupting.
have not indicated the need of society and the freedom of the individual. They
have thought more of the depraved and less of the ordinary moral man. In their
desire to keep films from the abnormal, they have excluded the moral. They have
attempted to bring down the public motion picture to the level of home
movies." In Raj Kapoor & Ors. vs. State & Ors., 1980 (1) S.C.C.
this Court was dealing with pro bono publico prosecution against the producer,
actors and others connected with a film called "Satyem", Sivam, Sundaram"
on the ground of Prurience, moral depravity and shocking erosion of public
decency. A petition to quash the proceedings was moved and procedural
complications brought the matter to this Court.
the questions considered was: when can a film to be publicly exhibited be
castigated as prurient and obscene and violative of norms against venereal
depravity. Krishna Iyer, J., speaking for the Court said, "Art, morals and
law's manacles on aesthetics are sensitive subject where jurisprudence meets
other social sciences and never goes alone to bark and bite because State-made
strait-jacket is an inhibitive prescription for a free country unless
enlightened society actively participates in the administration of justice to
world's greatest paintings, sculptures, songs and dances, India's lustrous
heritage, the Konaraks and Khajurahos, lofty epics, luscious in patches, may be
asphyxiated by law, if prudes and prigs and State moralists prescribe paradigms
and prescribe heterodoxies..
am satisfied that the Film Censor Board, acting under Section 5-a, is specially
entrusted to screen off the silver screen pictures with offensively invade or
deprave public morals through over- sex. There is no doubt - and Counsel no
both sides agree 0 that a certificate by a high-powered Board of Censors with specialised
composition and statutory mandate is not a piece of utter inconsequence. It is
relevant material, important in its impact, though not infallible in its
verdict. But the Court is not barred from trying the case because the
certificate is not conclusive.
the magistrate shall not brush aside what another tribunal has, for similar
purpose, found. May be, even a rebuttable presumption arises in favour of the
statutory certificate but could be negatived by positive evidence. An act of
recognition of moral worthiness by a statutory agency is not opinion evidence
but an instance or transaction where the fact in issue has been asserted, recognised
am not persuaded that once a certificate under the Cinematograph Act is issued
the Penal Code, Pro tanto, will hang limp. The court will examine the film and
judge whether its public display, in the given time and clime, so breaches
public morals or depraves basic decency as to offend the penal provisions.
Statutory expressions are not petrified by time but must be updated by changing
ethos even as popular ethics are not absolutes but abide and evolve as
community consciousness enlivens and escalates. Surely, the satwa of society
must rise progressively if mankind is to move towards its timeless destiny and
this can be guaranteed only if the ultimate value-vision is rooted in the
unchanging basics, Truth- Goodness- Beauty, Satyam, Sivam, Sundaram.
relation between Reality and Relativity must haunt the court's evaluation of
obscenity, expressed in society's pervasive humanity, not law's penal
scientists and spiritual scientists will broadly agree that man lives not alone
by mystic squints, ascetic chants and austere abnegation but by luscious love
of Beauty, sensuous joy of companionship and moderate non- denial of normal
demands of the flesh. Extremes and excesses boomerang although some crazy
artists and film directors do practise Oscar Wilde's observation :
"Moderation is a fatal thing.
succeeds like excess" In Samaresh Bose and an. vs. Amal Mitra and anr.,
1985 (4) S.C.C. 289, this Court was concerned with a novel entitled "Prajapati";
it was published in Sarodiya Desh, which was read by Bengalis of both sexes and
almost of all goes all over India. A complaint was lodged that the novel was
obscene and had the tendency to corrupt the morals of its readers. This Court said
vulgar writing is not necessarily obscene. Vulgarity arouses a feeling of
disgust and revulsion and also boredom but does not have the effect of
depraving, debasing and corrupting the morals of any reader of the novel,
whereas obscenity has the tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are
open to such immoral influences. We may observe that characters like Sukhen, Shikha,
the father and the brothers of Sukhen, the business executives and others
portrayed in the book are not just figments of the author's imagination, Such
characters are often to be seen in real life in the society. The author who is
a powerful writer has used his skill in focussing the attention of the readers
on such characters in society and to describe the situation more eloquently has
had used unconventional and slang words so that in the light of the author's
understanding, the appropriate emphasis is there on the problems. If we place
ourselves in the position of the author and judge the novel from his point of
view, we find that the author intends to expose various evils and ills
pervading the society and to pose with particular emphasis the problems which
ail and afflict the society in various spheres. He has used his own technique,
skill and choice of words which may in his opinion, serve properly the purpose
of the novel. If we place ourselves in the position of readers, who are likely
to read this book, and we must not forget that in this class of readers there
will probably be readers of both sexes and of all ages between teenagers and
the aged, we feel that the readers as a class will read the book with a sense
of shock, and disgust and we do not think that any reader on reading this book
would become depraved, debased and encouraged to lasciviousness. It is quite
possible that they come across such characters and such situations in life and
have faced them or may have to face them in life. On a very anxious
consideration and after carefully applying our judicial mind in making an
objective assessment of the novel we do not think that it can be said with any
assurance that the novel is obscene merely because slang and unconventional
words have been used in the book in which there have been emphasis on sex and
description of female bodies and there are the narrations of feelings, thoughts
and actions in vulgar language. Some portions of the book may appear to be
vulgar and readers of cultured and refined taste may feel shocked and
disgusted. Equally in some portions, the words used and description give may
not appear to be in proper taste. In some places there may have been an exhibition
of bat taste leaving it to the readers of experience and maturity to draw the
necessary inference but certainly not sufficient to bring home to the
adolescents any suggestion which is depraving or lascivious. We have to bear in
mind that the author has written this novel which came to be published in the Srodiya
Desh for all classes of readers and if cannot be right to insist that the
standard should always be for the writer to see that the adolescent may not be
brought into contract with sex. If a reference to sex by itself in any novel
fit to be read by adolescents, adolescents will not be in a position to read
any novel and "will have to read books which are purely
religious"." In The State of Bihar vs. Shailabala Devi, 1952 S.C.R.
J. said that a writing had to be considered as a whole and in a fair and free
and liberal spirit, not dwelling to much upon isolated passages or upon a
strong word here and there. and an endeavour had to be made together the
general effect which the whole composition would have not the mind of the
public. Mukherjee, J., concurring with Mahajan, J., observed that the writing
had to be looked at as a whole without laying stress on isolated passages or
particular expressions used here and there and that the Court had to take unto
consideration what effect the writing was likely to produce on the minds of the
readers for whom the publication was intended. account had also to be taken of
the place, circumstances and occasion of the publication, as a clear
appreciation of the background in which the words were used was of very great
assistance in enabling the court to view them in their proper perspective.
Papers (P) Ltd. and Ors. vs. The Union of India, 1962 (3) S.C.R. 842, a
Constitution Bench held that the only restrictions which can be imposed on the
rights of an individual under Article 19(1)(a) were those which clause (2) of
Article 19 permitted and no other. This was reiterated in Life Insurance
Corporation of India vs. Proof.
d. Shah, 1992 (3) S.C.C. 637.
guidelines aforementioned have been carefully drawn. They require the
authorities concerned with film certification to be responsive to the values
and standards of society and take note of social changes. They are required to
ensure that 'artistic expression and creative freedom are not unduly
curbed". The film must be "judged in its entirety from the point of
view of its over-all impact".
must also be judged in the light of the period depicted and the contemporary
standards of the people to whom it relates, but it must not deprave the
morality of the audience. Clause * requires that human sensibilities are not
offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity, that scenes degrading or
denigrating woman are not presented an scenes of sexual violence against women
are avoided, but if such scenes are germane to the theme, they be reduced to a
minimum and not particularised.
guidelines are broad standards. They cannot be read as one would read a statue.
Within the breath of their parameters the certification authorities have
specific sub-clauses of clause 2 of the guidelines cannot overweigh the sweep
of clauses 1 and 3 and, indeed, of sub-clause (ix) of clause (2). Where the
theme is of social relevance, it must be allowed to prevail. Such a theme does
not offend human sensibilities nor extol the degradation or denigration of
women. It is to this end that sub-clause (ix) of clause 2 permits scenes of
sexual violence against women, reduced to a minimum and without details, if relevant
to the theme. What minimum and lack of details should be is left to the good
sense of the certification authorities, to be determined in the light of the
relevance of the social theme of the film.
Queen' is the story of a village child exposed from an early age to the
brutality and lust of man .
of to a man old enough to be her father she is beaten and raped. The village
boys make advances which she repulses; Nut the village panchayat finds her
guilty of the enticement of a village by because he is of high caste and she
has to leave the village. She is arrested, and in the police station filthily
abused. Those who stand bail for her dos to satisfy their lust. She is
kidnapped and raped.
an act of brutality the rapist is shot dead and she find a ally in her rescuer.
With his assistance she beats up her husband, violently, her rescuer is shot
dead by one whose advances she has spurned. She is gang-raped by the rescuer's
assailant and his accomplices and they humiliate her in the light of the
village: a hundred men stand in a circle around the village well and was the
humiliation, her being stripped naked and walked around the circle and then
made to draw water. And not one of the Villagers helps her.
burns with anger, shame and the urge for vengeance. She gets it, and kills many
not a pretty story. There are no syrupy songs or pirouetting round trees. It is
the serious and sad story of a worm turning: a village born female. becoming a
dreaded dacoit. An innocent who turns into a vicious criminal because lust and
brutality have affected her psyche so. The film levels an accusing finger at
members of society who had tormented Phoolan Devi and driven her to become a
dreaded dacoit filled with the desire to revenge.
in this light that the individual scenes have to be viewed.
the scene where she is humiliated, stripped naked, paraded, made to draw water
from the well, within the circle of a hundred men. is intended by those who
strip her to demean her. The effect of so doing upon her could hardly have been
better conveyed than by explicitly showing the scene. the object of doing so
was not to titillate the cinema-goer's lust but to arouse in him sympathy for
the victim and disgust for the perpetrators. The revulsion that the Tribunal
referred to was not at Phoolan Devi's nudity but at the sadism and
heartlessness of those who had stripped her naked to rob her of every shared of
dignity, Nakedness does not always arouse the baser incident. The reference by
the Tribunal to the film 'Schindler's List' was apt. shown frontally, being led
into the gas chambers of a Nazi concentration camp. Not only are they about to
but they have been stripped in their last moments of the basic dignity of human
beings. Tears are a likely reaction; pity, horror and a fellow feeling of shame
are certain, except in the pervert or to assuage the susceptibilities of the
over- sensitive. 'Bandit Queen' tells a powerful human story and to that story
the scene of Phoolan Devi's enforced naked parade is central. It helps to
explain why Phoolan Devi became what she die : her rage and vendetta against
the society what had heaped indignities upon her.
rape scene also helps to explain why Phoolan Devi become what she did. Rape is
crude and its crudity is what the rapist's bouncing bare posterior is meant to
and sex are not being glorified in the film. Quite the contrary. It shows what
a terrible, and terrifying, effect rape and lust can have upon the victim. It
focuses of on the trauma and emotional turmoil of the victim to evoke sympathy
for her and disgust for the rapist.
much need not, we think, be made of a few swear words the like of which can be
heard every day in every city, town and village street. No adult would be
tempted to use them because they are used in this film.
sum, we should recognise the message of a serious film and apply this test to
the individual scenes thereof :
they advance the message ? If they do they should be left alone, with only the
caution of an 'A" certificate. Adult Indian citizens as a whole may be
relied upon to comprehend intelligently the message and react to it, not to the
possible titillation of some particular scene.
that illustrates the consequences of a social evil necessarily must show that
social evil. The guidelines must be interpreted in that light. No film that
extols the social evil or encourages it is permissible, but a film that carries
the message that the social evil is evil cannot be made impermissible on the ground
that it depicts the social evil. At the same time, the depiction must be just
sufficient for the purpose of the film. The drawing of the line is best left to
the sensibilities of the expert Tribunal. the Tribunal is multi-member body. It
si comprised of persons who gauge public reactions to film and, except in case
of stark breach of guidelines, should be permitted to go about its task.
present case, apart from the Chairman, three members of the Tribunal were
woman. It is hardly to supposed that three women would permit a film be
screened which denigrates women, insults India womanhood or is obscene or
pornographic. It would appear from its order that the Tribunal took the view
that it would do women some good to see the film.
of the opinion that the Tribunal had viewed the film in true perspective and
had, in compliance with the requirements of the guidelines, granted to the film
an 'A' certificate subject to the conditions it stated. We think that the High
Court ought not to have entertained the 1st respondent's writ petition
impugning the grant of the certificate based as it was principally upon the
slurs allegedly cast by the film on the Gujjar community. We find that the
judgment under appeal does not take due not of the theme of the film and the
fact that it condemns rape and the degradation of and violence upon women by
showing their effect upon a village child, transforming her to a cruel dacoit
obsessed with wreaking vengeance upon a society that has caused her so much
psychological and physical hurt, and that the scenes of nudity and rape and the
use of expletives, so far as the Tribunal had permitted them, were in aid of
the theme and intended not to arouse prurient or lascivious thoughts but
revulsion against the perpetrators and pity for the victim.
are allowed. The judgment and order appeal is set aside. The 1st respondent's
writ petition is dismissed. The "a" certificate issued to the film
"Bandit Queen" upon the conditions imposed by the Appellate Tribunal
1st respondent shall pay to each appellant the costs of his appeal.