Banning films, a national shame

It is a matter of national shame that Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's film S Durga was not screened at the
just-concluded International Film Festival of India (IFFI) with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), in an unprecedented move, withdrawing its certificate to the film over a change in the title. The film, originally titled Sexy Durga, had been cleared by the CBFC with a suggestion to change the title to which the filmmaker had complied. The film had been selected for screening by the IFFI jury but the Union Information Ministry had dropped it along with Ravi Jadhav's film Nude for unexplained reasons, leading to the resignations of IFFI chairman and several jury members. A Kerala High Court judge had then quashed the ministry's decision, and an appeal against that decision to a larger bench had been rejected with a severe rebuke and an order that the certified version of the film be screened at the festival. However, despite protests by the filmmaker outside the venue, the film was not screened at the festival. The reason touted was based on a last-minute letter from the CBFC to the IFFI director, stating a minor technicality related to the new title.

The possibility of Sanal Kumar's film being screened in India after the IFFI debacle is remote. For, despite monetary muscle, a big Bollywood banner and reigning stars like Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati no longer has a release date. Some states have even officially spoken about banning it. All because politically influential Hindu groups believe that such films distort Indian history. This kind of moral policing has prevented India from making a bigger splash at international film festivals. The same misplaced sense of morality saw former censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani wield his scissors far too generously on films which would have been considered inoffensive. The absurdity of his actions was highlighted when he sought to chop a James Bond film and insisted on extremely clumsy changes such as substituting a cuss word with the expression, "Oh cats."

The rub is that while the Narendra Modi government is busy deciding what we should or should not watch, other countries with far stricter moral codes have really pushed the envelope when it comes to addressing potentially provocative subjects. Films on homosexuality, such as Be Like Others and Circumstances, which would be considered off-limits in India have made it big at international films festivals like Sundance. Films and other creative works should be judged by their quality and the Constitutional limits on freedom of expression. Viewers both in India and abroad deserve to see the best of Indian cinema.

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