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SC order upholding censor board’s authority likely to guide EC response on Modi biopic

The Congress has moved the Election Commission to stall the 5 April release of a biopic about PM Narendra Modi starring Vivek Oberoi.

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New Delhi: A recent Supreme Court order stating that the censor board has the last word on a film’s release and screening could determine the Election Commission’s response to a Congress complaint about an upcoming PM Modi biopic starring Vivek Oberoi.

A Congress delegation had approached the Election Commission Monday to stall the release of PM Narendra Modi, which is slated for a 5 April release, a week before the seven-phase Lok Sabha election kicks off on 11 April. The party has complained that the “content, timing and motive (of the movie) is political”.

While the EC is still analysing whether it can delay the release of a film, a top source in the poll panel said it was studying the SC order, issued earlier this month, clearing the screening of a Bengali political satire critical of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, among others.

Cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the film, Bhobhishyoter Bhoot (Ghosts of the Future), was released on 15 February. However, a day later, the producers reportedly discovered that the film had been taken off by most theatres on the instruction of unspecified “higher authorities”.

The producers subsequently approached the Supreme Court, which called the bar on screening an infringement of the fundamental right to free expression.

“Once a film has been duly certified by the CBFC, it is not open to any authority to issue formal or informal directions preventing the producer from having the film screened,” the court added.

However, while this observation could be used by the poll panel to frame its response, its course of action will depend on the response filed before it by the producers of PM Narendra Modi.

“The Election Commission has asked the producers of the film to give an explanation on the complaint made by the Congress within two days… So, if the producers agree to delay the release date, it is the end of story,” another official in the Election Commission said.

The commission has also sought an explanation from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the official added.

Also read: New dilemma for EC, Modi and Rahul films coming to a theatre near you

‘EC can do little in this matter’

Political biopics have created quite a stir this election season, with several people voicing concern about their possible impact on voters if released just before the Lok Sabha polls.

A group of former civil servants had Tuesday requested the Election Commission to delay the release of PM Narendra Modi, as well as a movie on Congress president Rahul Gandhi with an unspecified release date, until the results of the Lok Sabha elections are declared on 23 May.

The poll panel is said to be exploring the idea of issuing a general order regarding the release of political films under the model code of conduct.

“Since the Election Commission is not the direct authority in matters of films, we are still exploring whether we can issue a general order or advisory on political films released during the code,” the first Election Commission official quoted above said.

Speaking to ThePrint earlier, S.K. Mendiratta, the commission’s former legal adviser, had said that matters of film certification “does not come to the Election Commission, unlike paid news”.

“There is a separate authority to certify films — CBFC — so EC can do little in this matter…” he added. “What it can do is advise the CBFC to not certify any content which will impact elections.”

Also read: Still waiting for answers on why I was named in credits of movie PM Modi: Sameer Anjaan

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