'Please see the film and then talk about it'

I came here to inquire into why men rape and men rape not just in India, men rape globally, this was not an India-centric inquiry

'Please see the film and then talk about it'
India ’s Daughter, documentary directed by Leslee Udwin focusing on the brutal rape of a physiotherapist in Delhi in a moving bus in December, 2012 leading to her death has created a furore after the Centre chose to ban it. Udwin spoke to Nidhi Razdan of NDTV in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

Nidhi Razdan: What is your reaction to MPs who say this is a conspiracy to defame India?

Leslee Udwin: I am really speechless.. I mean a conspiracy to defame India… Let me be very very clear, I came to India, my entire crew was Indian, this co-production is with India, my co-producer Dibang is Indian. I came to India with love for India, I have had a relationship of 14 years with this country, since I made a film called east is east, since I shot for 6 months in Punjab for West is West. I love India and I loved India even more, almost beyond expression when ordinary men and women of India came out on the streets for rights of a woman following this heinous gangrape. I came here with the best of motives in the public interest. I came here to inquire into why men rape and men rape not just in India, men rape globally, this was not an India-centric inquiry. It happened to be an Indian case but if it had happened in Turkey I would have gone to Turkey. And I know rape happens elsewhere because I myself have been raped. 1 in 5 women globally are raped. At the end of this documentary … if anyone bothered to be rational enough and responsible enough to look at the documentary… look at the documentary ladies and gentlemen before so make these statements. At the end of my documentary there is an entire list of global statistics. Am I out to harm the tourism in say UK, where I say that 1 in 3 girls between the age of 13 and 17 have known sexual violence? Am I out to harm the tourism in South Africa where I say that a rape occurs every 26 secs. I beseech you, please stop being hysterical, stop sidelining this issue, look at the issue then only will you be able to assess this documentary and see if there is offence in the documentary.


Nidhi Razdan: Why did you look at this particular case? What was is about this rape case?

Leslee Udwin: 100% the protests, it was not the rape. I have never seen a country so impressively standing up for gender inequality which is a global issue and the issue which is world ready to address. I wanted to amplify those voices and to give what I could in gratitude to all those ordinary men and woman who stood on the streets and withstood the freezing weather in Delhi that December, withstood the water canons and I understand why there was crackdown.


Nidhi Razdan: You have seen the angry reaction of the Government of India, the court has said this film can’t be shown…

Leslee Udwin: I am deeply disappointed. I have spent two years of my life out of pure and genuine commitment. I left 2 young children for 2 years with my husband…and to come to end of that and be told the very country that I wanted to make the film for as a gift, ok and not be allowed to show it is deeply disappointing… I am very frightened for what is going to happen next … can I please explain what I mean by that … I came here ready to tell the world how India is changing, is ready to change and has expressed the hope in those protests in an exemplary fashion and what is going to happen now, I hope I am wrong but I really scared to say that the whole world is now going to point fingers at India which is was not objective of the exercise.

Nidhi Razdan: For censoring it?

Leslee Udwin: … for Censoring it because India is a democracy and in a democracy you have free speech and now don't have irresponsible free speech and believe me when see the documentary and if you ever take the trouble to look at the documentary you will understand that there is nothing irresponsible about this documentary. It is highly responsible, it is in the public interest. It’s a tragedy, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Why you are doing it?

Nidhi Razdan: ..what that has been alleged in terms of the permission that was granted for filming because it is very important. Home Minister of India has said in parliament that the jail authority sent you a legal notice on 7th of April 2014 that the permission conditions you had been given to shoot this film had been violated and that you have to return the unedited footage within 15 days and not to show the film anywhere because it violates the permission conditions .What happened after that? Did you get this notice, what was your response?

Leslee Udwin: First of all I have to say that with greatest respect sir you are the Home Minister please ask your advisers to give you the facts that because I actually heard the Home Minster speaking in parliament today and I was really shocked by the inaccuracy, you haven't got the facts sir, I beg you get them. What happened was clearly this, in about late May or June I wrote an impassioned plea to the DG Tihar stating that I want to make a documentary film in the public interest, I wanted to understand the mindset of a rapist.

Nidhi Razdan: That was you first approach?

Leslee Udwin: Yes, that was the first approach.

Nidhi Razdan: You wrote to the DG of Tihar Jail who was Vimla Mehra at that time. I just wanted to show this is letter that Home Ministry then issued on the 24th July 2013, which was the first time they actually gave clear cut permission. They wrote to Vimla Mehra who had approached them about Leslee’s request and said that they had no objection to the proposal provided that informed written consent is obtained from the each of the convicts that is interviewed. After that what happened Leslee? Why did you receive a notice from them saying that the conditions had been violated because you had been told very clearly that you have to get written consent, which you did. They also said nothing should breach the security of the jail. What happened?

Leslee Udwin: That was the second layer of permission… lets be very clear about it this so that there no more misinformation. After the MHA permission letter, I required and got a written letter from jail authorities themselves, I believe that letter was dated 22 nd of July, correct me if I am wrong.

Nidhi Razdan: This is the 26th of July. Signed by law officer Sunil Kumar

Infact I am personally carrying a debt of 120 thousand pounds because of this film because I felt so passionate about wanting to add my voice to the protesters here.

Nidhi Razdan: So how did the authority respond?

Leslee Udwin: The authority understood it completely and then issued the final permission letter dated 20th of August 2013.

Nidhi Razdan: This is 20th of August 2013 where they have said that, againonce you get the written consent of the convicted prisoner you can go ahead… that the MHA is pleased to grant you permission for the same and the complete unedited raw footage of Tihar Jail will be shown to the Delhi prison administration to ensure that there is no breach of prison security. Now Leslee, there comes the problem because Indian Government says that you did not show the jail authorities the unedited footage.

Leslee Udwin: I showed the jail authorities the unedited raw footage,every frame of footage shot in Tihar. They constituted a 3-man-committee, over 2 days … those days were 9th and 10 th December 2013 and I would hope the prison record will show that my editor Vivekcame witha hard drive, I don’t want to say how many hours but it was between 13 to 17 hours of every frame shot at Tihar, the unedited footage as the permission requested .

Nidhi Razdan: It was shown on the 9th and 10th of the December 2013…

Leslee Udwin: It was shown on 9th and 10th of December 2013, the footage which we showed on 9th was general views of Tihar and I believe the beginning of the Mukesh interview. The 3-man-committee who saw the footage got a bit bored with looking at so much footage and said this too lengthy …uh…sorry! My editor came back the next day but they didn't watch much more the next day, they didn’t sit the whole session next day, they said this is too long and we cannot sit through these 13 hours or 15 hours, please cut it down for us. I said with the greatest pleasure I will cut it down but you need to understand that I can’t cut it down now because the editing process of a film…

Nidhi Razdan: Was there any objection when they watched this unedited footageabout what the convict was saying or any of the content editorially?

Leslee Udwin: No, they didn't. They did not have the position to raise editorial objection because the prison permission stated very clearly that the only objection they could have voiced… might have voiced was breach in prison security.

Nidhi Razdan: So why did they give you the notice… what is the notice on 7th April 2014? It says that you violated the permission conditions and that you cannot show the film .

Leslee Udwin: It said so but it was inaccurate so my lawyers wrote back a reply to that legal notice and the matter seemed to go away. However I had still not shown them the cut down version, so out of the sense of complete responsibility because they had asked for it some months before, they seemed to accept my lawyers rebuttal of their letter because… for example in that letter, their legal notice they said that I had breached because I had not handed over the footage. Look at the permission letter, does that say hand over or does that say show, please tell the home minister.

Nidhi Razdan: It doesn't say handover .

Leslee Udwin: It says show, Am I right?

Nidhi Razdan: Yes right

Leslee Udwin: Thanks

Nidhi Razdan: What I don't understand is that if they have seen the unedited footage, most of it, at least on the 9th and 10th of December, why they have sent you a letter after 5 months saying that you are in violation?

Leslee Udwin: I am very very clear that they wanted to retract the permission. There is other explanation because I have complied with the permission absolutely to the letter.

Nidhi Razdan: But you got an another letter from the Law Officer of Delhi Prisons Sunil Kumar and that’s dated on 14th of June that he actually has objections to what the convict is saying, that he feels the language he is using is derogatory and he goes to the back to the point about wanting to see the unedited footage. You replied to that, what happened?

Leslee Udwin: But I must fill in because there is a very important missing stage. I pursued Mr Sunil Kumar and DG VimlaMehra for weeks, I have got all the emails. I was utterly ignored. I pursued them to say that I promised to show you the cut down version, I have now chosen those bits and responsibly I want to come in and show you the cut down version. They ignored my e-mails which was very strange. Finally i wrote to Mr Sunil Kumar and said that sir with the greatest request I have been asking you for a meeting for two weeks, I leave in two days if I don't hear back from you within the next day with a time and an appointment I will have to think that you don't need to or want to see this cut down footage. He immediately responded and said come tomorrow I will have a 3-man-committee. So I went the next day and I went there with my lawyer because by then I was very suspicious about why they were attempting illogically against the agreement they have signed…..

Nidhi Razdan: and they watched it?

Leslee Udwin: No, they did not watch it. This is a torturous tale I am afraid but we better get every detail right because the amount of misinformation the Home Minister has been fed by who ever does the research for him is scandalous.

Nidhi Razdan: What happened?

Leslee Udwin: Mr Kumar was his own, there was no other committee member and he said I am very sorry… only the chairman of the committee is around and the other two are not around. We had arrived in time for the meeting and set up. So he said please come back tomorrow, I said sir you are here, the chairman of the committee is here, can we at least show it to you because tomorrow is the day I leave. He said no, it is not my position … Ican’t make any such… So he just resisted seeing it. I said I can’t some tomorrow but I will send a representative of my company or another one my lawyer and that is what happened and they showed the cut down version, which means the prison authorities had both the unedited footage… first, they choose to watch it to certain point and then asked for a cut down version and they were shown the cut down version.

Nidhi Razdan: But they had objections… on the 14th of June when they wrote you last time they said that they had objections to what the convict was saying, they called the language derogatory, they felt that there is a problem. What did you say to them in response?

LU: I said this goes beyond the scope of the permission letters which we have signed together.

Nidhi Razdan: The permission of was only limited to….

LU: … breach of prison security

Nidhi Razdan: …not editorially what the convicts say

LU: Correct. If DG Tihar or MHA or Mr Kumar had wanted editorial control I would have not gone ahead with the interviews because I couldn’t give editorial control, by that stage I was in discussion with BBC about potentially funding some of the film for acquiring a UK licence and the BBC would not have gone ahead with this deal in any shape or form if editorial control was given to any party.

Nidhi Razdan: But what happened after that Leslee?

Leslee Udwin: That was it, they never responded.

Nidhi Razdan: So the last conversation happened in June last year

LU: I haven't heard a word since.

Nidhi Razdan: From whatever letters are here you are very clear that you had all you legal permission in place, my question then to you is what next as you know the government has made it clear that is not going to let this documentary be shown here, I don’t know how this is going to play out in the higher courts but are you going to fight this? Is this something you had a chance to think about?

Leslee Udwin: It is not something that l have had a chance to think about in the pragmatic way, as to what I am going to next. Will I just give up on my deep desire to have this film shown in India because it was made as my gift to India and of course the world come into it but it was a very personal thing because of the protests. But what I can tell you… what I have thought about great deal and it kept me awake last night… I am in deep pain because this is going backfire. I beg you, infactPrime Minister Modi I appeal to you … you and I met at a festival in Gujarat when you were the Chief Minister there and my film West is West opened that festival and we met then, I appeal to you Prime Minister do not allow this to get out of hand because it is getting out of hand. Countries around the world will very soon be saying how dare India ban a documentary that is in public interest. I urge you to please watch the documentary as soon as possible, I urge the Home Secretary to watch this as soon as possible.

Nidhi Razdan: See there are people… even friendsof mine who are uncomfortable with the idea of this film, who are uncomfortable with what that they feelis a platform for this convict, they feel that there are genuine concerns, that it makes them squeamish that he should be given chance to contextualise why he did this. How would you respond to those people with those concerns?

Leslee Udwin: At a stage where the film was still able to be changed I sought the views of people who I had interviewed in it, some of them. I called them together for a screening in a conference room in a hotel in Delhi. There were 3 waiters in the room, the film was that stage at about 90 minutes length, it was a stage when I could still make changes and I wanted to know how India will respond to this film and I wanted to know if it balanced so I was asking for views. The three waiters who were putting out snacks, which was part of the deal, on a table very noisily as we were about to start the film, I went up to them and said bhaiya kripaya take the plate away and come back after the film. The film started i looked to my right the three waiters stood there for 90 minutes riveted to the film which was half in English, half in Hindi. After that one of the waiters took me up with my credit card, he was visibly shaken he said ma’am you have made a beautiful film, a heart touching film, I said thank you for saying that but I would like to ask you question ..please tell me honestly.. will what you have seen make you think how women are treated in your family, in your country in the world and this is exactly what he said to me, ma’am it truly will and I will surely change and that is my most cherished response to this film and I have had responses from Meryl Streep, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nation, from Freida Pinto, from the most extra ordinarily….

Nidhi Razdan: In fact Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto are part of this campaign…

Leslee Udwin: They are… we have a global launch in New York on the 9th of march, this is a global campaign, it is not about India, it’s not about your tourism, it’s not about pointing fingers. It was actually intended to be about elevating you and in every piece of publicity I have done on this film I have said I came because of admiration for India, I came because India was leading the world by example. Please don’t break that, it’s a very precious thing. Don't allow people to point fingers at you and say what on earth are you doing banning a film that will change attitudes and help women world over. Please reconsider. Just see the film and then discuss it.

(By arrangement with NDTV)

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