The Supreme Court on Thursday imposed a fine of Rs 20 lakh on the West Bengal government for shadow banning Bangla film Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghost of the Future), a political satire. The Anik Dutta directorial had been taken off theatres soon after its release in February, and the screening did not resume even after directions to the effect from both the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the apex court also directed the state to pay damages to the theatre owners who were restrained from screening the film in almost all multiplexes and single screen theatres.
The money would be given to the producer and theatre owners, a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said. The apex court also noted that the state government’s order clearly was in the violation of the fundamental right of free speech and expression.
Justice Chandrachud observed that this kind of action on the film was a serious matter wherein intolerance was used by the state against artistic freedom.
The court insisted that the right to free speech could not be silenced because of the fear of mobs.
The movie had hit 66 screens across 44 cinema halls in Kolkata on the stipulated release date on Friday, 15 February. Indira Unninayar, co-producer of the film, had said it was well received by the audience and was running to packed houses before it suddenly vanished from the theatres from 16 February afternoon without any “genuine explanations”.
Starring Sabyasachi Chakraborty, Koushik Sen, Moonmoon Sen and Paran Banerjee among others, Bhobishyoter Bhoot is a social and political satire, and comments on a range of contemporary issues through dark humour. It had got clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification.
The sudden withdrawal of the film caused anger among the movie buffs who said the move amounted to an attack on democracy. Thespian Soumitra Chatterjee even shot off a letter, calling the decision “vindictive” and “undemocratic”, and a “fascist policy”.
On March 15 2019, a Supreme Court order had ordered that the film should be brought back to the theaters and screened without any disruptions, making the film’s team and cinephiles happy. The order also said once the Central Board of Film Certification(CBFC) had certified a film, no one could block the way of its public exhibition.
Earlier the same day, when hearing a petition seeking directions to allow the film to be screened in the city, Justice Debangshu Basak of the Calcutta High Court had asked if the rights of cinema lovers to watch a film could be hampered.
However, despite the court orders, the screening of Bhobishyoter Bhoot had not resumed.
In the last week of March, the makers of the film had written to the cinema hall owners, requesting them to resume the screening at the earliest.
Billy Chatterjee, producer of the film, had said in a press statement that if the screening of the film was not resumed, they would demand an explanation from the owners of three giant multiplex chains in the city.