The 48th edition of the International Film Festival of India 2017 (IFFI) which begins on Monday in Goa, will mark one unedifying first: that of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) which organises it dropping two films selected by the jury for the Indian Panorama section.
This has not happened before and the development prompted some editorial outrage last week before it was temporarily drowned out this week by the furore which continues to rage over the release of the film Padmavati.
But it will be an IFFI clouded by allegations of official censorship. Rather ominous, for a festival centered on the theme ‘Celebrating the Future of Cinema.’
The row that has erupted between the MIB and the film fraternity is over the films Nude and S Durga – films of award-winning filmmakers Ravi Jadhav and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan respectively. Both films had been cleared by the government-appointed jury for the Indian Panorama headed by Sujoy Ghosh(who resigned following the government’s decision).
"There are two ways of looking at the omission of these films"
The move disappointed other jury members too: “Both these films deserve to be on the list. Dropping them implies we cannot tell the difference between aesthetic and offensive,” said Kannada filmmaker Suresh Heblikar in an interview.
Another jury member Apurva Asrani, writer of acclaimed films such as Aligarh,also resigned citing support for the films: “My conscience will not allow me to participate in festivities in Goa.”
Gyan Correa, yet another member of the Selection Committee followed suit, showing solidarity with the filmmakers.
Sexy Durga (as S… Durga was titled prior to CBFC certification) is a thriller exploring the trauma that a couple undergoes after taking a late night lift from two strangers, while Nude focuses on the lives of nude models who earn a living posing for painters and artists and is based on the filmmaker’s own experiences at the JJ School of Arts.
There are two ways of looking at the omission of these films. One is that it is censorship brought on by the MIB’s squeamishness over the titles of the films. An Indian Express editorial said, “this discomfort with creative works that refuse to conform with populist or majoritarian notions of aesthetics, history and morality is increasingly becoming all-pervasive.”
The other view is that Ghosh’s resignation means little as the jury’s job is confined to the selection and submission of film titles. Thereafter, it is up to the MIB to approve the final list. While there is no precedent for the Ministry not abiding by the jury’s decision, this does not imply that it cannot overrule it.
Says Manoj Srivastava, a film professional who has served as Deputy Director at the Directorate of Film Festivals and is credited with organizing several IFFIs in the past: “The jury can only make ‘recommendations’ which by its very definition means just that – to recommend. So far as violation of Clause 8.5 of the Indian Panorama 2017 regulations is concerned, ‘the decision of the juries shall be final and binding – on the filmmakers, not on the Ministry.”
So it is not incumbent on the MIB to accept the jury’s choices, particularly since another technical issue arose: the jury had submitted a list of 22 films (with two on standby) when they were required to give only 20 because of screening time constraints during the festival.
“Why did they give a list of 22 when we have time to screen only 20? We can screen less but not more. So, in any case two films would have been pulled out. They were well aware of this fact,” explains Vani Tripathi Tikoo, a member of the Steering Committee IFFI 2017.
There was another issue: Sasidharan’s film S… Durga had been denied CBFC certification when titled Sexy Durga. It was given a U/A categorization to be screened at Jio MAMI in September after he changed the title to S… Durga and agreed to some audio mutes of cuss words. But he submitted the uncensored version for IFFI. “The Ministry cannot be hypocritical at its own festival. If it was not allowing the film’s screening at MAMI until he got the certification, how could he expect exemption at IFFI?” asks Tikoo. A filmmaker can’t be showing a censored version and then an uncensored version at two different festivals.
S… Durga has also been in the news for other reasons. Sasidharan has refused to screen his film at the upcoming International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in December, because it was selected for the Malayalam Cinema Today section.
"A filmmaker can’t be showing a censored version and then an uncensored version at two different festivals"
According to IFFK’s Vice Chairperson and Artistic Director Bina Paul, “The film was submitted in the Festival Competition segment but the Selection Committee decided that it should be screened Out of Competition so we moved it to Malayalam Cinema Today, which for us is a very prestigious section. Within that space we would have accorded Sexy Durga the recognition that it deserved but there was no way we could have granted a special screening to it. This does seem to be a rant on the filmmaker’s part.
“If he believes that his film is not being granted enough recognition, he is free to think so. Only one or two Malayalam films make it to the competition every year and the Committee was very clear that Sexy Durga was not going to be one of them. The Committee comprises eminent personalities from the film fraternity and we absolutely respect their decision. Part of the problem with curation is that subjectivity will always be there. Not all films will make the cut.”
The IFFK apart, while Sasidharan has moved the Kerala High Court against the MIB and officials for “illegal, arbitrary and unjust exclusion” of his movie from the final selection for the Indian Panorama, Jadhav has expressed disappointment over the exclusion of his film Nude.
“I am 100% sure that they (the ministry officials) have not seen the film and have merely gone by its title. We have handled the subject aesthetically and sensitively,” he said.
Nude is part of the selection at IFFK, assuming, that is, that the film would be complete by then! Nude apparently has two versions. Going by media reports, Jadhav submitted an “incomplete film to IFFI.” By his own admission in some reports, it was “99 percent complete,” when submitted to IFFI, India’s largest and best known Film Festival.
“Which festival in the world allows you this? It is shameful that some filmmakers take IFFI so lightly. Can any filmmaker dare to do such a thing with Cannes, Berlin or Locarno?” asks Tikoo.
The version submitted by the filmmaker to the Committee was included in the Committee’s list, with the rider that only the version seen by them will be screened at IFFI. He has since sought to submit the second version. Also, the film’s teaser has been given a CBFC certificate, not the whole film. The MIB thus rejected it on technical grounds.
But at the end of the day, when the MIB’s spokespeople have had their say, there were other obvious considerations which neither officials nor jury will articulate. First, the provocative nature of the title which appends the adjective ‘sexy’ to the name of a Hindu goddess.
Second, the fact that the eloping couple are a Hindu girl (called Durga) and a Muslim man called Kabeer. And third, the point made in the film that a girl named Durga can be a goddess if she is in a temple, but is treated very differently when she is out in the street (a point made in the synopsis of the film on the MAMI's website.)
With the film Nude again, the title and some frontal nudity would undoubtedly have been an issue, but as mentioned earlier, more pertinent is the fact that Jadhav submitted an incomplete film. Its trailer had been given certification but not the film itself. The jury itself had given a rider that only the version that they had seen could be screened.
The two directors are entitled to their outrage but the picture that has been portrayed of why their films were dropped is not quite as black-and-white as they suggest.