The Kerala High Court dismissed the petition filed by documentary filmmakers of the “In the Shade of Fallen Chinar” seeking an interim relief with an aim to screen the film at the tenth edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), which started Friday. The court also dismissed the plea filed by the maker of March, March, March, which narrates the story of the recent agitation in the JNU.
While passing the order, the Court said it was not appropriate to deal with the contentions raised by the petitioners when an appeal by the Kerala Chalachitra Academy (second respondent) is pending before the appellate authority.
“Since it is stated that the appeal preferred by the second respondent challenging the impugned order is pending before the appellate authority, I do not feel it appropriate to deal with the contentions raised by the petitioners as to the sustainability of the impugned decision. The writ petitions, in the circumstances, are dismissed,” said Justice PB Suresh Kumar.
The documentary, directed by Shawn Sebastian and NC Fazil, was one of the three short films which were denied censorship exemption by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for screening at the ongoing festival. All three documentaries, which came under the government’s scanner, deal with controversial topics such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ agitation (March, March, March), the unrest in Kashmir Valley (In the Shade of Fallen Chinar) and the Rohith Vemula issue (The Unbearable Being of Lightness).
Films showcased at film festivals do not require a certificate from the Censor Board but are required to get a censor exemption certificate from the Ministry in order to get them screened at a festival.
According to the High Court, certification under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, is required for public exhibition of films of all kind. Section 9 of the Act, however, confers power on the Central Government to exempt any film or class of films from the process of certification under the Act.
It also said that the central government has framed guidelines for the exercise of the power under section 9 of the Act as per the Office Memorandum. The court said as per the OM, applications for exemption cannot be preferred by the makers of the films.
“If petitioners are not entitled to prefer applications for exemption under section 9 of the Act for exhibition of their documentary films, according to me, they cannot be said to be aggrieved by the decision of the Central Government in declining exemption sought in respect of their films by the second respondent,” said Justice Kumar in the order.
Responding to the development, Sebastian told indianexpress.com that this should not be confused as an order which upheld the Central government’s decision to not give censorship exception to three documentaries. “The court did not wish to interfere in the matter as an appeal by Kerala Chalachithra Academy is pending. We do have faith in the appeal by Kerala Chalachithra Academy. However, we approached the court for an interim relief as the festival already began today and by the time the Central government’s response comes, the festival would well be over.”
Sebastian asserted that the fight was not just for the inclusion of these films in IDSFFK. “We must seriously analyse the rules that give sweeping powers to the ministry to ban any documentary arbitrarily. This is a beginning. In the coming years, we would see more films facing the wrath of the central government. We believe the Academy should lead from the front in campaigns against such censorships,” he added.
The 16-minute short film portrays how students in Kashmir University are telling their stories, through art, music and photography, in the strife-torn Valley. The festival is organised by the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy, a body under the state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs.