While the critically-acclaimed film, Aligarh, released across India this Friday, a fringe group called the Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC) has arm-twisted exhibitors in Aligarh into cancelling its screening.
The group is objecting to the title Aligarh, stating that the film — based on Professor Ramchandra Siras who was suspended from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 2010 after he was filmed having consensual sex with a man — sullies the reputation of the city.
Confirming this, MBMC Secretary Jasim Mohammad said the film has not been officially banned but the group has ensured that it doesn’t screen in any cinema hall in the city. “We protested a week ago near the university’s circle. Four cinema halls in the city were to show the film — Starworld Cinemas, BIG Cinemas Vadra, Apsara and Minaxi — but they all backed out after our protest,” said Mohammad, adding that both Hindus and Muslims are backing MBMC on the issue.
However, Asim Siddiqui, a professor of English at AMU, said the film did open at Starworld Cinemas on Friday, as scheduled, but was taken off Saturday. “I watched the 7.15 pm show Friday and there were a few people in the audience. But today, some people called me and said the film is not playing at the hall any longer,” said Siddiqui.
In a letter sent to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, MBMC said: “Aligarh is famous all over the world as home of the Aligarh Muslim University…. Aligarh is also known for its highest culture and tradition which will be negatively affected by the title ‘Aligarh’.”
The letter, accessed by The Sunday Express, also linked homosexuality with “immoral behavior”. “The title of the film i.e. ‘Aligarh’ is offending as it sends a message (that) gay practice is common at Aligarh. The title is not suitable and proper by any means. It will desist (sic) people (from) send(ing) their children to Aligarh for studies. Further, as it is also an industrial centre, the impression of city goes negative (sic) in foreign countries which lowers the country’s prestige,” it said.
Confirming that there is no official ban on the film, Aligarh District Magistrate Balkar Singh said: “There is no ban from government on showing the movie.”
SSP J Ravinder Goud said the police had no information about a ‘ban’ on the film. “Nobody has approached us with any complaint against the film. Neither any local nor any cinema hall owner or distributor has come to us,” said Goud.
But Aligarh Mayor Shakuntala Bharti is supporting the group’s call for a ban. “We had issued a warning that we will not allow this film to be shown in the city at any cost. Ten days ago, we lodged our protest against the screening of the movie,” she said.
“Aligarh tameez aur tehzeeb ka shahar hai. Vishwa vikhyat kavi Neeraj ka shahar hai hamara Aligarh (Aligarh is a city of culture and refinement. It is the city of world famous poet Neeraj). Aligarh Muslim University is world renowned. Are they trying to malign the city by naming the film after it? The city is being tarnished by showing that such people also live here,” said Bharti, who is from the BJP.
Both Bharti and Mohammad claimed their protest was focused against the film’s title, not so much the content.
Most of the film exhibitors were unavailable for comment. “The programming decisions are taken in the Delhi office,” said an official at BIG Cinemas Vadra.
The makers of the film, meanwhile, are disappointed. The director Hansal Mehta viewed it as a case of homophobia. “I heard from our producer, Eros, that the film has not been allowed to screen at all in the city since its all-India release on Friday,” said Mehta. “By getting the film to not play in any cinemas in Aligarh, they have killed Siras once again,” he said.
Aligarh is based on The Indian Express reports on the hounding of Siras following the controversial suspension by the university and his eventual death.
( With ENS inputs from Delhi, Lucknow)