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Over 150 film professionals and academicians have written a letter to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) demanding that exemption be issued to the three films denied screening certificates at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK) 2017, which begins today.
In the letter, the filmmakers have also raised concerns regarding state censorship as an attempt to stifle meaningful debate around political issues. Stating that they intend to question the basis of denying these films certification — which the I&B ministry has not made public — the filmmakers have said: “It is also clear that the government of the day is resorting to draconian action to stifle all such political debate. Article 19 of our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression to every citizen of this country.”
The three films are all based on subjects that have been at the heart of controversies recently. Kathu Lukose’s March, March, March looks at the protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University after student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest. Shawn Sebastian and Fazil NC have captured the cultural movement in Kashmir that is emerging as the youth’s means of resisting in In the Shade of Fallen Chinar. Mumbai-based Ramchandran PN’s The Unbearable Being of Lightness revolves around Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide.
In the view of some filmmakers, the incident points towards an emerging cultural emergency in the country. “It’s about the subjects these films address,” said Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer of films such as National Award-winning Anhe Ghore Da Daan.
However, documentary filmmaker Paromita Vohra came on board to sign the letter to mark her protest against censorship. She believes that in order to dismantle the idea of censorship, it is important to go beyond particular governments. “Different governments have used censorship for different reasons,” she says. Vohra adds that the society needs to make space for a meaningful discussion on controversial subjects, “a space that allows for listening, speaking, agreeing, disagreeing, engaging, not engaging… and censorship isn’t the way towards such a society.”
Among others who have signed the letter are documentary filmmakers Anand Patwardhan, Shirley Abraham, Sanjay Kak and playwright Cyrus Mistry.