Ram Gopal Varma hasn't done anything punishable, say lawyers

ramgopalverma.jpg

By Radhika Bhirani

New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) Director Ram Gopal Varma has irked the censor board by tampering with the national anthem for the song "Jana gana mana rann hai" in his upcoming film "Rann" which stars megastar Amitabh Bachchan. Lawyers say there is no specific law to prevent people from doing so.

"There can't be anything disparaging on the national anthem or flag or any such property. One can't play around with these things. But sadly, no legal action against any person can be taken if he or she tampers with the anthem because there is no law for it," Lalit Bhasin, president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, told IANS.

According to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, a person could be charged with a criminal offence with regard to the national anthem only if he or she "intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian national anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing".

Bhasin also said that nothing can be done to prevent Varma from using the anthem under the existing law.

Varma faced the ire of protesters and a ban on the song by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) after he showcased the first look of "Rann" last week. But the filmmaker maintains it does not portray the national anthem in bad light.

"Through this song, we are talking about the (ongoing) disputes in the country but there were no intentions to ridicule anything. It's something I felt in my heart and it was my idea to place the song like this. It is based on the script of my film and I don't think there's any offence in it," Varma had said.

The promo, however, led to protesters burning effigies of Varma and Bachchan in Mumbai and Ranchi last week.

A Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader, who was among the 100-odd protesters in Ranchi, had said: "We cannot tolerate twisting of the national song. It is dishonour of the national song and the country. We are planning to file public interest litigation in the Jharkhand High Court seeking banning of the movie."

But such acts of protest are futile, say lawyers.

"I don't see why justice is going to the roads. When there is no punishment for the act according to the law, nothing can be done about it. I have heard the song and there is no dishonour to the national anthem," said Supreme Court lawyer Pinki Anand.

"Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. And when there is no system of law against what the filmmaker has done, no amount of people taking to the roads and agitation can help," she added.

Jayant Bhushan, a senior advocate, echoed similar sentiments and said: "Freedom of speech is important. One shouldn't be too sensitive. I don't think the filmmaker has dented the national anthem by just changing a few lines. The dignity of the national anthem is not so fragile."

Varma is now moving Supreme Court after the censor board refused permission to air the song, said producer Madhu Mantena.

However, Lalit Bhasin said that the CBFC can ban either a part or the entire film "if its content is socially misgiving and creates unrest among people".

"But if the filmmakers are going to appeal to the court, only the judges will have the final say," he said.

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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