NEW DELHI (AP) — A Bollywood movie about drug abuse in India's northern state of Punjab can be released in theaters across the country with one potentially offensive scene removed, rather than the many cuts sought by censors, a court ruled Monday.
The decision was being hailed by the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai as a victory for the creative arts and the fundamental rights of filmmakers.
The director and producers of "Udta Punjab," or "Flying Punjab," had appealed to the court last week after the Censor Board sought removal of nearly 90 scenes before it would declare the film fit for screening.
Those initial recommendations had led to an uproar in the industry known popularly as Bollywood, and in light of the protests, Censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani announced Sunday that the film had been certified for adult audiences with 13 scenes removed.
Nihalani said nine board members watched the film and unanimously decided on the rating and the need to cut some violent scenes.
The film certification board is legally empowered to protect audiences from content that includes profanity, excessive violence, sexuality and nudity.
Producer Anurag Kashyap said last week that Nihalani had even wanted the state's name dropped from the title, a claim that Nihalani disputed. The censor chief has said the movie wrongly depicts 70 percent of people of the state consuming drugs and defames them.
He also accused the producers of trying to create a controversy to boost interest in the film.
Abhishek Chaubey, the director of the film, said he gladly accepted the court's verdict and would make the cut recommended by the court.
"I'm going to work all night to get the movie to cinemas by June 17," the date of the film's official release, Chaubey said.
The court's decision was hailed by India's film fraternity as a "landmark judgment" that would ensure freedom of expression of modern cinema in India.
"As a filmmaker I feel empowered and relieved," said Karan Johar, a noted film director and producer.
Punjab state borders Pakistan and most of the drugs trafficked in the region originate from Afghanistan and are processed in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Kashyap said the film was a realistic portrayal of the drug trade in Punjab.
The controversy took a political twist with state legislature elections due early next year.
Opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi parties accuse leaders of the ruling regional group, the Akali Dal, of providing patronage and shelter to the drug mafia in return for money. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is an ally of the regional group.
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