The row over the dropping of two films by the government from the Indian Panorama section of the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) escalated Tuesday as director Sanal Sasidharan, whose film S Durga was one of two pulled out, moved the Kerala High Court while another jury member, Apurva Asrani, resigned saying “my conscience won’t allow me to participate in the festivities in Goa”.
On Monday, jury chairperson Sujoy Ghosh stepped down after the Information and Broadcasting ministry pulled out Malayalam film S Durga and Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi film Nude. Challenging the exclusion of S Durga, Sasidharan petitioned the Kerala High Court, urging it to direct the festival organisers and the ministry to include and screen his film in the festival which opens November 20. He called the decision of the ministry “arbitrary, illegal and unjust”.
Asrani, who followed Ghosh in walking out of the festival jury, said: “I stand with the chairman of the jury. We have had a responsibility towards some very sincere films, and somewhere we have failed them. My conscience won’t allow me to participate in the festivities in Goa. However, I wish all the other films good luck. Each one has been made with a lot of love and no controversy should take away from that.” Two jury members, Ruchi Narain and Gopi Desai, too said they were disappointed with the I&B ministry’s decision to change the list without consulting or informing jury members. But another member of the jury, filmmaker Rahul Rawail, told The Indian Express that two days before the final list was announced on November 9, he received a call from a member of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) team, seeking his suggestion on replacing S Durga.
“I cannot remember the name of the NFDC representative who called me, but I was asked what I would choose as the opening film if S Durga was to be replaced. I told them Pihu would be a good film to open with,” Rawail said. He maintained that the I&B Ministry’s decision to drop the two films from the selection did not warrant a controversy. “We were asked to select 21 films, plus another two for standby in case of any issue.
The 21 films on the final list are films that the jury selected even though two from our top 21 list have been dropped,” he said. But Kannada filmmaker Suresh Heblikar, also on the jury, expressed disappointment. “They didn’t inform anyone on the jury or even discuss their concerns. It was made very clear between NFDC and the jury that our decision will be final,” he said, adding that the two films dropped had been made aesthetically. “Both these films deserve to be on the list. Dropping them implies we cannot tell the difference between aesthetic and offensive.”
On Ghosh’s decision to resign, Heblikar said the chairperson’s decision is “understandable as he found himself in an embarrassing position”. He said he too may withdraw from the festival.
So far, the I&B ministry has not made any official comment. But sources in the ministry pointed out that S Durga had also been denied permission for screening at the Mumbai Film Festival in October, and this “uniform benchmark” was applied to IFFI. Regarding Nude, the ministry sources claimed it had been denied permission since the film was not complete technically.
Any movie which has not got certification from the Central Board of Film Certification needs the I&B ministry’s approval to be screened publicly, including film festivals.
Ravi Jadhav, director of Nude, said they applied to the CBFC last week and expected the certificate to come through soon. “The movie, which follows the life of nude models, deals with the subject aesthetically. I am certain of getting the certificate from CBFC soon,” he said.