Scene from “An Insignificant Man.”
“An Insignificant Man,” billed by the makers as a film based on the life of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, hit the screens Nov. 17, as the Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking a stay on its release, Nov. 16, saying freedom of speech and expression was “sacrosanct.”
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that any film, theatre, drama or novel was a creation of art and courts should not crucify rights of an expressive mind.
The court was hearing a plea filed by Nachiketa Walhekar, who allegedly threw ink at Kejriwal in 2013. He has claimed that he has been depicted as a convict in the movie despite the fact that trial in that matter was still pending.
His counsel told the bench, also comprising justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, that the film contains a video clip, which was originally shown by media, pertaining to him and the Central Board of Film Certification should not have granted a certificate to the movie for its release.
“It is worthy to mention that freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct and the said right should not be ordinarily interfered with,” the bench said.
It said when the CBFC has granted a certificate and only something with regard to the petitioner, which was shown in the media, was being reflected in the movie, “this court should restrain itself in not entertaining the writ petition or granting injunction.”
“Be it noted, a film or a drama or a novel or a book is a creation of art. An artist has his own freedom to express himself in a manner which is not prohibited in law and such prohibitions are not read by implication to crucify the rights of expressive mind,” the bench said.
It said that “human history” records that there were many authors, who expressed their thoughts according to the choice of their words, phrases, expressions and also created characters who may look absolutely different than an ordinary man would conceive of.
“A thought provoking film should never mean that it has to be didactic or in any way puritanical. It can be expressive and provoking the conscious or the sub-conscious thoughts of the viewer. If there has to be any limitation, that has to be as per the prescription in law,” it noted in its order.
The bench also said that courts have to be extremely slow in passing any kind of restraint order in such a situation and it should allow the respect that a creative man enjoys in writing a drama, play, book on philosophy or any kind of thought that is expressed on the celluloid or theatre.
Regarding the petitioner’s apprehension that the documentary film would be used as an evidence during the trial of the case, the bench said it cannot be commented upon as it would be for trial court to adjudge under the Evidence Act.
During the hearing, the petitioner’s counsel told the bench that his image has been tarnished in the film and the filmmakers could have put in a disclaimer that trial in the ink-throwing case was still pending.
“The incident happened in 2013. It was alleged that the petitioner had thrown the ink on Kejriwal. Trial is still pending. How can they show me as a convict of throwing ink at Kejriwal?” the lawyer said.
The bench, however, said that prohibiting exhibition of a documentary or a film was “very serious” and courts should be very slow in interfering with it.
It said that only the courts have the right to convict a person of any crime.
“Every day, debate takes place in this court and people write about it as they understand. We do not gag them. Pre-censorship by courts should not be done,” the bench said.