Religion and identity — the two have confronted filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar since he was growing up in Muzaffarnagar in northern UP. “I have seen people pay the price with their lives for being part of a certain minority community. I have lived through that hardship and always wondered the cause behind it,” says the US-based filmmaker, over a phone conversation. It is these questions that his debut feature film Un-Freedom seeks to address.
However, the Central Board of Film Certification is not comfortable and the film was denied certification last month for its content.
The ambitious plot looks at two parallel stories: the first, a lesbian couple in New Delhi that has hidden their live-in status from parents, and on the other side of the world, a religious extremist in New York, who is out to seek revenge for his past by kidnapping a religious scholar. “I wanted to touch upon religious control and sexuality — subjects that bothered me. There is a politics that surrounds these subjects that is central to my thought process,” says Kumar.
Though he maintains that he was not oblivious to the controversy that his film would stir up, he admits that he was not prepared for such “extreme” reactions. But Kumar is not taking this lying down. Last week, he started an online signature campaign on the film’s website to protest film censorship. He is also working with legal representatives in drafting a petition to submit to the Delhi High Court arguing the ban. “I knew I was making a challenging film and I knew I would face some opposition from the authorities. But I thought they would ask for a few cuts and grant me certification. Instead they asked me to cut the entire expression and central ideas in my film,” says the 37-year-old, who graduated from City University of New York in 2006 with a Masters in Cinema and Media Studies.
Just before starting his Ph.D, he drafted the film’s initial script in 2009. “Since then I wrote the script 12 to13 times before I was satisfied,” says Kumar, who has directed, produced and co-written the script with co-writer Damon Taylor. Un-Freedom boasts of known names in the industry such as Samrat Chakrabarti, Victor Banerjee, Adil Hussain and Bhanu Uday among others. While the music is composed by Wayne Sharpe, Oscar-winner sound designer Resul Pookutty is involved with perfecting the sound.
Without revealing too much about the plot, Kumar says that the underlying thought in the film is about “questioning the world we live in which operates under the tenets of certain religions”, and how the society views Muslims in a certain light. “My job was to show those different layers in our society,” he argues. Ahead of its May 29 release in the US, Kumar hopes to drum up enough momentum for his film in India. “I don’t believe in the silent way. Do you expect me to sit in a corner after being denied a certificate? I am hoping that public figures will support me on this cause,” adds Kumar, who will be in India next week, organising a protest march to the Indian Censor Board office and hoping to submit his signature campaign to the PM’s office. His next film is titled, Ayodhya and the title says it all. “It is even more important that I make this film now,” he says.