By Pratibha Chandiramani
A film titled ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ was produced and released by Raj Kapoor in the year 1978. A viewer of the film alleged that the film contained scenes that were against the public morals. The viewer alleged that the movie had misguided the public by showing obscene material under the garb of the fascinating title of film and therefore it committed an offence. A case was filed against the producer, director, actor of the film under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. The trial court after scrutinizing some witnesses took cognizance of the offence and issued notice to the producer (Raj Kapoor) of the film. The producer moved to High Court against the order of trial court under Section 482 of Cr.P.C. on the score that the criminal proceeding is abuse of law and that no trial could be legally endured because the movie has been appropriately considered for public broadcasting. However, the High Court dismissed Raj Kapoor’s appeal as it of the view that the plea against the producer is not frivolous thus; there is no need of quashing the proceedings. Consequently, the appellant moved to Supreme Court for relief.
The producer argued that the case proceedings are not maintainable because they possess the rights to broadcast the movie in spite of the fact that the movie contained obscene material. The petitioner claimed that The Central Board of Film Censors had already granted the ‘A’ certificate to the film under section 5(A) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. According to Section 5A of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, any film that contains obscene material and for which a certificate has been granted, the applicant is not liable for punishment under any law relating to obscenity because the rights in the film have passed through the issuance of the certificate. Thus, the issue cropped up as to whether the certificate issued by Central Board of Film Censor under section 5A of Cinematograph Act is justified under law. And if it is justified, then can the applicant, against whom a case has been filed, claim defense under section 79 of IPC.
Section 292 of the IPC
As per the provisions contained in this section, any person that produces, sells or publicly exhibits any representation or objects including films that contains obscenity and takes part in or receives profits from the obscene material in question commits a crime. The punishment prescribed under this section for displaying obscene material is imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years and with fine of maximum two thousand rupees in case of first conviction. In case of second conviction under this section, the accused is liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, and also with fine not exceeding five thousand rupees. For avoiding uncertainty concerning the term ‘obscene’, the section explains that a material will be considered obscene if it is salacious (conveying inappropriate interest in sexual matters) or appeals to the lustful interest or if its effect is such so as to deprave and corrupt the person who read, see or hear the matter contained or displayed in it.
Section 79 of IPC
According to this section, if a person performs any act by reason of a mistake of fact and not by reason of a mistake of law and in good faith believes him to be justified by law in doing so however, the act done constitutes an offence under law, and then the accused person will not be prosecuted. If the act performed is justified by law irrespective of whether or not it constitutes an offence, the person can claim defense from being prosecuted under this section.
Supreme Court’s Judgment
The plaintiff contended that the movie was displaying indecent content under the garb of a decent title. All individuals including producer, director and actor misdirected the viewers by the tactic of retaining a captivating title and displaying vulgarity, obscenity which is an offense under Section 292 of IPC. The defendant claimed that the movie had been approved by the Central Board of Film Censors, and an ‘A’ certificate was issued to the film under section 5 (A) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 only after which the movie was permitted for screening in cinema. Therefore, the act of the defendant comes under purview of Section 79 of IPC and defense can be claimed under the same. The producer claimed that they had a reasonable belief that their actions were justified by law. The appellant appealed that there was no intent to upset the feelings of the viewers by showing the film.
The Supreme Court accepted the contention that a necessary certificate for permitting public exhibition of a film issued under Section 5A of the Cinematograph Act by the competent authority in good faith amounts to justification in law. The Supreme Court held that the initiation of criminal proceedings against the producer wasn’t maintainable because the film has been passed by the censor board and the producer and other agencies were protected under 79 section of the IPC read with section 5A of the Cinematograph act. The court announced that the ‘A’ certificate was issued by the board once all the requisites of section 292 were satisfied by the film. The court held that IPC is a broad encompassing law and Cinematograph Act is specific law. The members of the Central Board of film possess greater competence and proficiency. Thus, the acts of the defendant do not constitute an offence under Section 292 because of their bona fide belief that the certification is judicial.
The Supreme Court observed that if an accused is able to prove that he was actually justified by law in performing an act which otherwise constitutes an offence under law or if he committed the offence due to mistake of fact in good faith and not due to mistake of law then he can claim defense under section 79 of the IPC. The court pronounced that due to the virtue of section 79, the producer has not committed any crime. However, the court also upheld that the bar under section 79 is not unconditional, and the producer actually has to partake in the legal proceedings and claim the defense under the section. The court allowed the appeal by Raj Kapoor and subsequently discharged him from charges as they were baseless.
The decision delivered by the Supreme Court in this judgment is considered to be a ground-breaking one as it gave a huge relief to those involved in producing content which include obscene material. Section 5A of the cinematograph Act has been entrusted with the responsibility to censor material that offensively attack or corrupt public morals through sexual content. Displaying sexually explicit content is not entirely suppressed by the film censor board, however; there is only a certain degree up to which displaying obscene material is permitted by the board. If the sexual content in question does not violate the essentials of section 292 of IPC, it may be granted the ‘A’ certificate. Once the certificate is issued to a film, no legal proceedings can be instituted against anyone involved in the film concerning the obscene content in the film as their actions do not constitute any crime and they are justified by law in their actions. Certification of films is specifically dealt as per the rules under the Cinematograph Act, and the same was also upheld in this judgment. Nonetheless, the court also declared that IPC does not become weary once a certificate under the Cinematograph Act is issued. The court still has the power to inspect the movie and judge whether its public display violates public moralities or lowers basic decency as to breach the provisions of the IPC.
The Cinematograph Act was initially implemented to encounter the explosively growing film nuisance of displaying vulgar and inappropriate sexual behavior. This is the primary reason behind the court upholding the decision of the Film censor board and announcing that the Indian Penal Code is general and the Cinematograph Act is special.