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The Supreme Court today (Monday, April 15) asked the Election Commission to watch the full movie ‘PM Narendra Modi’, a biopic on the Prime Minister, and give its opinion by Friday in a sealed cover.

The EC last week had stopped the release of the movie till the end of national elections on May 19.

The top court’s order came on a plea by the film’s producers challenging the EC’s decision saying it had watched only the promo and not the full movie. They argued that the ECI’s stay was a violation of their fundamental right to free speech and expression.

The Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, asked the EC to report back to the apex court in sealed cover by Friday on whether the movie is to be publicly screened or not. It said it will again consider matter on April 22.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for film producers who challenged the poll body’s decision, in the top court today said the Election Commission only watched the promo and did not watch the full movie.

The court said that the EC had had “no occasion to watch” the film before passing its interim order on April 10 to stay its release. It seems, the court said, the EC took its call on the basis of a short trailer.

“Consider the matter once again,” the court told the EC.

The court also asked the EC to provide the film makers an opportunity to be heard, if they so requested.

The ECI had stayed the release of the biopic till further orders. According to the producers, the biopic was scheduled to hit the theatres on April 11, that is, on the very day the first phase of polling in the Lok Sabha polls kicked off.

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Exercising its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, the ECI had directed that any biopic material sub-serving the purposes of any political entity or any individual entity connected to it, which is intended to, or which has potential to, disturb the level playing field during the elections, should not be displayed during the MCC period.

“Any poster or publicity material concerning any such certified content, which either depicts a candidate (including prospective) for the furtherance (or purported to further) of electoral prospect, directly or indirectly, shall not be put to display in electronic media in the area where MCC [Model Code of Conduct] is in operation,” said the seven-page order.

In a separate letter to the producers of the biopic, the Commission explained that the film cannot be exhibited as it was a biopic on a political leader and prospective candidate in the General Elections.

The order has also affected the release of two other films: Lakshmi’s NTR on TDP founder N T Rama Rao, and Udyama Simham on Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s struggle for the separate state of Telangana.

In a separate order, the poll panel also imposed a ban on public screening of “any biopic material in the nature of biography/ hagiography” which could serve the interest of a political party or candidate, while the Model Code of Conduct is in force.

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The Model Code of Conduct, in its present form, doesn’t explicitly prohibit screening of films based on a candidate or a political party. Hence, the EC invoked its extraordinary powers under Article 324 to stop the screening of the biopics.

After the film titled PM Narendra Modi received a ‘U’ certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification, producer Sandip Ssingh had said, “We are very happy that we got the ‘U’ certificate from the Censor Board, and finally the film will be releasing on April 11. We are also very relieved that the Supreme Court has rejected the plea. It is clear now from everywhere. I hope no political party across India has any problem, because the Election Commission, the CBFC, and all the courts have cleared all the pleas, and our film is ready for release. We are grateful to each and everyone who has prayed for us.”

Web series on Modi being streamed without being cleared, poll officer tells EC

In a separate development, Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer has written to the poll panel saying that a web series on the prime minister that is available on the Eros Now website was streaming without certification from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC).

The web series, called Modi, went on air at the beginning of this month, before the ban was announced, and the episodes continue to be available on the web platform. Now, the Delhi Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) has written to the poll panel saying that a web series on Modi available on the Eros Now website was streaming without certification from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC).

The letter, signed by Election Officer (Media, MCMC, Paid News & Training) to EC Principal Secretary Narendra Butolia, was written on Saturday, The Indian Express reported. The District Election Officer (DEO) (East) has also reportedly written to the Delhi CEO asking whether the web series had MCMC certification, and suggested that in the absence of certification, an FIR be lodged against Eros Now.

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A senior official at the Delhi CEO’s office reportedly said that they have brought to the notice of the ECI that a series on PM Narendra Modi is being screened on the Eros Now platform without MCMC certification from them. Since it not a Delhi specific matter, the CEO office has asked the ECI to take cognizance of the matter.

The 10-part web series was directed by Umesh Shukla of OMG: Oh My God fame. Another film based on political events, The Tashkent Files, about the death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, did get a smooth release on Friday as it wasn’t classified as a biopic.

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