The Delhi High Court has observed that accessibility was not only crucial but was also enforceable as a legal right and private parties had to ensure that ‘reasonable accommodation’ measures were taken to enable greater accessibility for the hearing and visually impaired persons under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (the Act).

The Bench of Justice Pratibha M. Singh observed that “accessibility to information, technology and entertainment, is equally important. A hearing or visually impaired person, may get easy physical access to a film theatre but may not be able to enjoy the film at all, if the measures to make it enjoyable are not taken by the other stakeholders, including producers, theatre managers, OTT platforms, etc. The State has an obligation to ensure that all steps, that are reasonably possible, are taken in this direction.”

The plea was moved by the petitioners, who were visually and hearing impaired, contending that various tools that helped in making films disabled-friendly were not implemented in the film ‘Pathaan’ and that direction should be issued to the producers of the film to add the audio description, subtitles, and closed captions, before the release of the film, to make it disabled-friendly and for the purpose of enforcement of various rights and accessibility requirements as per the provisions of the Act.

Advocate Rahul Bajaj appearing for the petitioner contended that the film ‘Pathaan’ did not make available audio description and closed captions and even the subtitles were in English language instead of being in Hindi. Thus, made it impossible for hearing and visually impaired persons to enjoy the film.

Advocate Abhishek Malhotra appeared for Respondent 1- Yash Raj Films and ASG Chetan Sharma and CGSC Ravi Prakash appeared for other respondents.

On a specific query by the Court as to how visually impaired persons were able to enjoy films in a theatre, the Counsel for the petitioner submitted that mobile applications namely, ‘XL Cinema’ and ‘Shazacin’ provided for audio description of the films through which visually impaired persons could enjoy the film.

The Court said that the petition raised very important issue as to the accessibility to various modes of entertainment for the hearing and visually impaired persons and noted that as per Section 42 of the Act, the Government had an obligation to take measures to ensure that all content was available in formats accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Court noted that features like Audio description, subtitling and closed captions would be integral to the enjoyment of film and therefore, these special measures should have been incorporated, in as much as the experience of watching a film in a movie theatre could not be denied to persons with disabilities.

Referring to various decision of the Supreme Court on the position of law as to the right to accessibility, the Court held that accessibility was crucial and was enforceable as a legal right and further directed respondent no.1- Producer to prepare the audio description, the subtitles in Hindi language and also the closed captions in both English and Hindi Language insofar as the release of the film ‘Pathaan’ on the Respondent No.4’s - ‘Amazon’ OTT platform was concerned as the film was scheduled to be released on April 28, 2023.

Insofar as the theatrical release of the film ‘Pathaan’ was concerned, since the said film was slated for release on January 25, 2023, no directions were passed by the Court.

The Court further considering the nature of the reliefs sought and the issue involved in the case, directed to implead the Indian Broadcasting, Digital Foundation (IBDF) as Respondent No.5 and the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA) as Respondent No.6 and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) was also impleaded as Respondent No.2(a).

Accordingly, the matter was listed for further hearing on April 6, 2023.

Cause Title- Akshat Baldwa & Ors. V. Yash Raj Films & Ors.

Click here to read/download the Judgment