NEW DELHI: The better part of Udta Punjab was leaked online and downloaded many times on Wednesday, prompting an executive of its production company to suggest that the censor board had tried to sabotage the film two days before its release.
Neither the chairman nor the CEO of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was available for comment in spite of repeated attempts by this newspaper to contact them. The leak has taken place in the middle of preparations by the producers to release the movie on Friday after winning a court battle against the board that had prescribed many cuts.
Sources in Anurag Kashyap's Phantom Films, the co-producers of the film, said they received a message around 1pm on Wednesday that two long clips of the film - lasting about 2 hours 20 minutes and 40 minutes - were available for download on illegal websites where pirated versions of films are put up. The entire film is 2 hours and 45 minutes long.
"By the time we came to know, many people would have already downloaded the clips. To our dismay, the clips were of the copy that was submitted for certification to the Censor Board as they had the 'For Censor' stamp and time logs on them," a senior executive in Phantom Films said.
"So we are guessing that the Central Board of Film Certification has tried to sabotage by leaking the film online," he said.
Another executive in the production company said that after tracking down the owners of the websites where the film was uploaded, they persuaded them to block the video.
"The clips have now been removed but we do understand that once anything is uploaded on the Internet, it is difficult to wipe it out entirely as many other websites lift the content uploaded on one platform," said the executive.
"The leaked videos had all the scenes the CBFC had demanded to be deleted and it is clear that somebody in the CBFC would have done it to cause major financial damage to the film ahead of its release," the executive added. "We are trying to figure out if it can be proved how the film was leaked and whether we can lodge an FIR under the cyber law."
Late tonight, a television channel reported that an FIR was filed.
A lawyer said the offence appeared to fall under Sections 66 and 43 of the information technology act, punishable by imprisonment up to three years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. "But the case can be taken forward substantially only if the offender is identified," said Supreme Court advocate Pavan Duggal.
In July 2015, the anti-piracy cell of Kerala police had arrested three temporary employees of the censor board in Thiruvananthapuram for allegedly leaking online the censor copy of a Malayalam blockbuster, Premam. The trio had quit their jobs with the censor a month before their arrest and when the leak became a raging controversy.
In the Kerala case, the pirated versions of the movie carried the CBFC watermark, forcing investigators to look for suspects among censor board employees.
However, the police had clarified that it had found no evidence to suggest that any CBFC official was involved in the leak.
Udta Punjab, which focuses on the drug menace in Punjab, had been in the news for several days after Kashyap took on the Pahlaj Nihalani-led CBFC over 94 cuts, including reference to Punjab and several other scenes, suggested by a revising committee under him. The movie stars Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor and Diljit Dosanjh.
Kashyap had then challenged the CBFC recommendations in Bombay High Court which gave a reprieve to the makers and shot down the board's objections, paving the way for the film's release on June 17 with only one cut.
On Wednesday, a Punjab-based NGO, the Human Rights Association, moved the Supreme Court seeking an urgent hearing against the release of the film, saying that it portrays the state and people in a bad light.
The apex court said that it would hear the matter only after the petition was cleared by the court registry.
A Chandigarh-based lawyer had moved a petition against the film in Punjab and Haryana High Court, which has demanded a special screening of the film before the court's representatives.
A report based on the screening of the film will be submitted to the court on Thursday.