The bench of acting Chief Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice Aruna Jagadeesan set aside the interim verdict by Justice K Venkataraman who had ordered the lifting of the two-week suspension of the screening imposed by the state government.
The court asked Haasan’s lawyers whether they had approached district collectors who had issued individual orders prohibiting the screening of the film citing the fear of violence. The lawyers said they hadn’t, prompting the judges to note that officers should be allowed to exercise the powers vested in them.
As Advocate-General A Navaneetha-krishnan sought time to file a detailed counter before the single judge who passed the interim verdict , the bench said the counters could be filed on February 4 and the hearing could be on February 6.
The bench told Haasan’s counsel P S Raman that he could either approach the district collectors with an appeal against the prohibition or wait for the final order by the single judge. Raman sought a copy of the order today itself, suggesting that the production house would now approach the Supreme Court.
In Delhi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, without getting drawn into the specific controversy over Vishwaroopam, suggested that states should honour decisions of the censor board. He felt it was time to re-examine how states can be made to implement decisions which fall exclusively in the Centre’s domain.
“In terms of entry 60 of list one, it is the Central government which exercises power through Central Board of Film Certification, which does certify as to which film is appropriate for exhibition and which is not,” he said. Once the censor board takes a view, the state governments are incumbent to implement that decision, he added, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Prakash Jha case.
About the ban on Vishwaroopam, he said since the matter is in court, he would refrain from making any “proactive or specific statement”. “We do not comment on matters which are sub-judice,” he said.
Earlier, Haasan, who scripted, produced and directed the Rs 95 crore-espionage-thriller, had agreed to delete some scenes from the film that apparently offended some Muslims. “My Muslim family has reached out to me about this problem...I promised anything for my brothers. They have pinpointed certain areas which they think might be troublesome. They have given me a list of certain scenes that might offend, and certain words from the Holy Quran which could be removed,” he told reporters.
“I have agreed to do that, because ultimately this film is in praise of Muslims. I don’t want it to be marred by somebody’s confusion as to what I am trying to do. This film is not anti-Indian Muslim. We have settled this amicably, there are no problems between me and my Muslim brothers,” said Haasan, who was flanked by film personalities and leaders of a few Muslim outfits including the Muslim League and Indian National League.
Earlier in the day, an emotional Haasan said he was “fed up” of the controversies and drawing parallels between his problems with those of celebrated painter M F Husain, he said he might be forced to go on self-exile to a secular state in India or even go abroad. “M F Husain did it, now Haasan will do it,” he said. Haasan blamed the controversies on political games that have pitted him against his “Muslim brothers”.
To raise money for the big-budget film, he had pawned all his properties in Chennai to moneylenders, Haasan said, adding that he now risked losing them as the release was being delayed. Kamal’s brother Chandra Haasan had told the media that they could lose Rs 30 crore or more.
Not knowing that the drama over the release of the film had not ended, hundreds of fans thronged theatres across the state much before daybreak to watch it on Wednesday morning. But most theatre owners soon realised that it would not be possible to show the film as police and revenue authorities asked them to present a copy of the verdict by the single judge delivered late on Tuesday, without which the status quo was to be maintained.
At a few places including Erode and Nagapattinam districts, the show was stopped after a little while under instructions of officials. At Ramanathapuram district, petrol bombs were hurled at a theatre, while in Coimbatore, police reportedly recovered some petrol bombs suspected to be kept to attack theatres screening Vishwaroopam.
In Chennai, a theatre had to stop the screening after a group barged in and started damaging property. A banner of the film at another Chennai theatre was set on fire.
Though it was the ire of Muslim organisations that was initially cited as a reason for stalling the release, the adamant attitude of the state government, going as far as approaching the acting chief justice at his residence at midnight to prevent the release, has come under scrutiny.
Twists & turns in the plot
January 3: Theatre owners, film distributors in Tamil Nadu oppose film release, protest against new business plan to premiere film on DTH platform a day ahead of theatre release on Jan 11
Jan 10: Kamal postpones film release to Friday, January 25, with an eye on the long weekend
Jan 21: Organises special screening for leaders of Muslim organisations who said the film has anti-Muslim content
Jan 23: State government orders a two-week ban on film’s screening
Jan 24: Kamal moves Madras HC against government order
Jan 25: Rajnikanth backs a beleaguered Kamal Haasan
Jan 26: Justice K Venkataraman watches the movie before delivering the verdict
Jan 28: Court tells Kamal and state government to settle the issue amicably
Jan 29: Court hearing goes on for seven hours divided into sessions: from 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 6:30 pm. Judge decides to give verdict at 8:30 pm. Interim verdict finally given at 10:30 pm, lifts the government ban. At around 11:30 pm, advocate general approaches CJI of High Court who assures to take up the matter the next day.
Jan 30: Between 11.30 am and 12 noon, Kamal addresses press meets. At 2.15 pm, first bench of HC starts hearing the case. At 3 pm, Kamal again tells the media he is willing to cut portions that offend the Muslim forums. But at 3:30 pm, court sets aside earlier order, sets next date of hearing for final orders on February 6