New Delhi, 25 August, 2006
Three of Anand Patwardhan’s National Award winning documentaries reached Indian TV audiences only after the judiciary ruled that these films had to be telecast. Bombay our City (1985) on the plight of Bombay’s poor, In Memory of Friends (1990) on the fight for communal harmony in strife-torn Punjab and Ram Ke Naam(1992) on the Ayodhya crisis, were all telecast following court orders, years after they were first made. It is now the turn of Father, Son and Holy War (1995).
A Chronology of Events
1. Father, Son and Holy War (FSHW) a 2 hour, two part documentary critique of the male psyche and its relationship to communal violence, was completed in 1995. After a legal skirmish with the Central Board of Film Certification which ended with the film being passed without cuts, the film went on to win two National Awards in 1996 – Best Social film and Best Investigative film. It also won several international awards and in 2004 was included by DOX magazine (Europe) amongst the 50 memorable documentaries in world cinema.
2. After Doordarshan (DD) refused to telecast the film, Patwardhan filed a writ in the Bombay High Court in 1998 on the grounds that DD was being arbitrary and had violated his right to Freedom of Expression and the public’s Right to Information. In February 2001, the Bombay High Court after viewing the film, directed DD to telecast it within 6 weeks.
3. The supposedly autonomous government constituted broadcast authority, Prasar Bharati appealed against this judgment in the Supreme Court. In December 2001 the Supreme Court directed DD to re-constitute a new committee to review the film within three months. A year passed without DD taking action. Finally in the face of contempt of court proceedings, DD constituted a screening committee that included prominent Hindu and Muslim religious leaders with the necessary qualifications. This committee unanimously recommended the telecast stating: “It is a very good film and must be shown.”
4. Prasar Bharati nevertheless rejected the film. Patwardhan then filed a new writ in the Bombay High Court and in 2003 won a second judgment by which DD was again ordered to telecast FSHW within two weeks. Prasar Bharati again appealed the matter in the Supreme Court claiming they could not show the film because one part of it had an “A” censor certificate.
5. On July 20, 2006 Justice Lakshmanan and Justice Panta of the Supreme Court saw the film and heard submissions from both sides. Prasar Bharati asked for certain deletions but on 25 August 2006, the judges upheld the High Court order to telecast the film without cuts. The Honourable Justices went so far as to pass strictures against DD and Prasar Bharati. Reprimanding the broadcaster for finding “flimsy excuses” time and again not to telecast Patwardhan’s film, the court said:
“This in our view is highly irrational and is a blatant violation of the right guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution (fundamental right to speech and expression).’’
Noting the long history of rejection of Patwardhan’s National award winning films they stated:
“We are shocked by the observation of the Prasar Bharati that “the film is not suitable due to unsatisfactory production quality and the film has nothing specific to convey.”
and further added:
“This behaviour of DD would justify us in stating that DD is being dictated by rules of malafides and arbitrariness in taking decisions with regard to the telecast of the Respondent’s films.”
Patwardhan was represented by Advocate P.A. Sebastian in the High Court and by Advocate Prashant Bhushan in the Supreme Court.