Legal training for filmmakers & creators

Hurting Religious Sentiment-Tale of Two Cases!

Hurting Religious Sentiment-Tale of Two Cases!

As a filmmaker venturing into topics involving religion in India, you must navigate a complex legal landscape. Will your movie be celebrated for its bold storytelling, or will it face a ban due to allegations of hurting religious sentiments? The key question is whether your film addresses social evils within a religion or if it propagates a narrative that ridicules or vilifies a religion, caste, or sect. Indian courts have generally favoured freedom of expression over hyper-religious sentiments, but Courts can very well impose a stay on a film’s release if it risks public discord. This creates a challenging and often precarious environment for filmmakers. Two recent judgments have favoured filmmakers addressing social evils within religions, despite hyper-religious objections. These cases provide invaluable lessons and clarity for filmmakers tackling sensitive public topics. In this article we will understand legal position in both these cases and legal tips for filmmakers to deal with the challenge hurting religious sentiment. 

Case 1: Azhar Basha Tamboli vs. Ravi S. Gupta & Ors (2024)

In the first case, Azhar Basha Tamboli vs. Ravi S. Gupta & Ors, the Mumbai High Court faced a petition against the upcoming film “Hum Do Hamare Barah.” The petition claimed the film violated the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and its associated rules and guidelines, arguing it was derogatory to the Islamic faith and married Muslim women in India. The filmmaker contended that the film highlighted women’s plight rather than targeting any religion. While the High Court deliberated, the Supreme Court granted a temporary stay on the film’s release.

After hearing both sides, the court concluded that prohibiting the film’s exhibition, which had already been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), would severely prejudice the filmmakers. Citing judicial precedents, the court held that allowing an individual to stall a certified film’s release would encourage holding filmmakers to ransom. The filmmaker agreed to delete certain dialogues perceived as offensive voluntarily, and the petitioner agreed not to object to the film’s release after these changes.

 

Case 2: Kalpeshkumar Babubhai Turi vs. State of Gujarat

The second case, Kalpeshkumar Babubhai Turi vs. State of Gujarat, involved a plea filed on behalf of Lord Krishna devotees and followers of the Pustimarg sect. They argued that a film could disrupt public order and incite violence against their sect and the Hindu religion, violating the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The court granted a temporary stay to review the film.

Upon reviewing the film, the court found nothing objectionable that would hurt the petitioners’ religious feelings or sect. The film focused on social reformer Karsandas Mulji’s fight against social evils, concluding that a sect is more important than any individual or incident. The Vaishnav sect continued on its path, growing as a proud part of India’s social, cultural, and religious fabric. The court noted that fears of public disorder were unfounded, as a 2013 book on the case had not led to any incidents. The court concluded that the film “Maharaj” was based on events leading to a libel case and did not target or hurt the sentiments of the Pushtimargi sect.

Lessons for Filmmakers

Understanding the Fine Line- As a filmmaker, it’s essential to understand the fine line between highlighting social evils within a community and ridiculing that community through a false narrative. The intention behind your film must be clear and well-researched. Engage in deep, meaningful discussions with cultural and religious experts to ensure your portrayal is accurate and respectful. This not only helps in avoiding legal pitfalls but also enhances the authenticity and impact of your story.

Legal Counsel at Every Stage- Engaging a legal advisor from the early stages of script development can be a game-changer. A lawyer experienced in media and entertainment law can help you navigate potential legal issues, ensuring your script complies with relevant laws and guidelines. They can also advise on making necessary adjustments to mitigate the risk of litigation, such as altering dialogues or scenes that might be perceived as offensive in the Court of law.

Building a Solid Defence- If your film faces legal challenges, having a robust defence strategy is crucial. This involves gathering all necessary certifications, such as the CBFC certificate, and preparing to present your film’s intent and context clearly and convincingly. Courts often look at the filmmaker’s intent and the broader message of the film, so documenting your research and consultations can strengthen your case.

The Power of Precedents- Familiarizing yourself with legal precedents can provide valuable insights and guidance. The cases of “Hamare Barah” and “Maharaj” demonstrate that courts may Favor freedom of expression over unsubstantiated claims of hurt religious sentiments. Each case is unique, but understanding how similar situations were resolved can help you anticipate potential issues and prepare accordingly.

Community Engagement- Engaging with the community depicted in your film can also be beneficial. Screenings for community leaders and members before the official release can help identify and address concerns early. This proactive approach shows respect and willingness to listen, potentially diffusing tensions and fostering understanding.

Navigating Controversy with Confidence- Despite your best efforts, controversy may still arise. In such cases, maintaining transparency and open communication with the public and media is key. Clearly articulate the film’s intent, the steps taken to ensure respectful portrayal, and your commitment to addressing genuine concerns. This can help build public support and mitigate backlash.

If you have queries regarding your script’s potential litigation risks or want to discuss steps to mitigate such risks, book a legal consultation session with us. Contact us at legal@attorneyforcraetors via email or visit our website.

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