In 'Bobby Art International V Om Pal Singh Hoon' [(1996) 4 SCC 1], popularly known as 'Bandit Queen Case', the respondent filed a writ petition in the court for quashing the certificate of exhibition given to the film "Bandit Queen" and restraining its exhibition in India. The film "Bandit Queen" is the story of a village child (Phoolan Devi) exposed to from a very early age to the brutality and lust of men. Phoolan Devi was married to a man old enough o be her father. She was beaten and raped by him. Further few village boys made some advances, which were repulsed by her, but the village Panchayat found her guilty of the enticement of that boy, because he was of high class and she was forced to leave village. She was arrested by the police and subjected to indignity and humiliation in the police station. Furthermore, she was kidnapped by dacoits and raped by their leader, Babu Singh Gujjar. Another member of the gang, Vikram Mallah, shot Babu Gujjar dead while he was assaulting Phoolan Devi, and she found an allay in her secure. With his assistance, she took revenge from her husband. Shortly after that, her rescuer Vikram Mallah was shot dead by the leader of a gang of Thakurs who made advances and was spurned. Phoolan was gang-raped by the leader and his colleagues. She was humiliated in the sight of village, stripped naked, and was made to fetch water from the village well under the gaze of villagers, but no one came to her rescue. To take revenge from her prosecutors, she joined a dacoit gang headed by Babu Mustkin and killed 20 Thakurs of the village of Bahmain. Ultimately, she surrendered and was in jail for number of years.
The film was presented for certification to the Censor Board. The Examining Committee of the Censor Board referred it to the Revision Committee, which recommended that the film be graded an 'A' certificate (for adults only) subject to certain modifications and cuts. Aggrieved by the decision of the revision committee, an appeal was filed before the Appellate Tribunal. The Tribunal consisted of a chairman and three other members who were ladies. The Tribunal granted the film an 'A' certificate. The respondent, then, filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court seeking to quash the certificate granted to the film and restrain ti exhibition in India. He contended that though the audiences were led to believe that the film was depicted the character of "a former queen of ravines", also known as Phoolan Devi, the depiction was "abhorrent and unconscionable and slur on the womanhood of India." The respondent and his community has been depicted in a most depraved way especially in the scene of rape by Babu Gujjar, which scene was "suggestive of the moral depravity of the Gujjar community." The High Court held that the film was obscene and quashed the order of the Tribunal. The Supreme Court, allowing the appeal, held that the certificate issued to the film bandit queen upon conditions imposed by the appellate tribunal is valid and is therefore restored. The court held that the film must be "judged in its entirety from the point of view of its overall impact."
The story of the film is a serious and sad story of a village-born female child becoming a dreaded dacoit. The film levels an accusing finger at the member of society who compelled her to become a dreaded dacoit. The scene where she is humiliated, stripped naked, paraded, made to draw water from the well within the circle of hundreds of men, the exposure of her breasts and genitals to those men is intended by those who strip her to demean her. This does not arose the cinema-goer's lust, but arouse in him sympathy for the victim and disgust for the perpetrators. Nakedness does not always arouse the baser instinct. Bandit Queen tells a powerful human story and to that story the scene of Phoolan Devi's enforced naked parade in central. It helps to explain why Phoolan Devi became what she was, her rape and vendetta against the society that had heaped indignities upon her. It shows what a terrible and terrifying effect rape and lust can have upon the victim. A film that illustrates the consequences of a social evil necessarily must show that social evil. The guidelines in the Cinematograph Act must be interpreted in that light. A film that carries the message that the social evil is evil cannot be impermissible on the ground that it depicts the social evil. The Tribunal is a multi-member body. It consists of persons who gauge public reactions, and except in cases of stark breach of guidelines, should be permitted to go about its task. In the present case, apart from the Chairman, three member of the Tribunal were women. It is hardly to be supposed that three women would permit a film to be screened, which denigrates women, insults Indian womanhood, or is obscene or pornographic. Instead, the tribunal took the view that it would do women some good to see the film. The tribunal had viewed the film in its true perspective and had, in compliance with the requirement of the guidelines, granted to the film 'A' certificate. The High Court ought not to have entertained the respondent's petition challenging the grant of certificate to the film.
The Supreme Court, accordingly, set aside the judgment of the high court and restored the order of appellate tribunal.
(Ref Source: Constitutional law of India: Prof. J. N. Pandey)