Documentary filmmaker Shawn Sebastian has hit an abrupt interval with his film, In The Shade of Fallen Chinar, being denied censorship exemption by the central government. The government has also denied exemptions to two other documentaries, March, March, March, based on the JNU students’ agitation, and The Unbearable Being of Lightness, which spotlights Rohith Vemula. Sebastian says these films have been blocked as they show socially relevant themes; he will approach the Kerala High Court now.
But Sebastian, don’t despair — your film is not being singled out. You are, in fact, in exhaustive company for India is brimming over with “socially relevant” themes that will never be made into movies — seeking censorship clearance is a non-issue, as these films will be non-films. For instance, that searing movie on dynasty, where generations in a Congress Party-style “first family” live off one surname, one ancestor, one idea — of being entitled to unending worship. Neither will we see that sharp documentary on exactly what the RSS’s role in the freedom struggle was, and whether that contribution — or the lack thereof — causes the right-wing group’s irritation whenever “azaadi” is mentioned.
We’ll never see that dirty picture where the Left is shown to eliminating its political rivals. We’ll never see that slick flick on quick scams in Ma-Mati-Maanush land, just as we won’t see that in-depth documentary on how not-so-hidden tigers terrorised Mumbai. And we will certainly never see that all-exposing documentary on 1984, or 2002, or any of the communal violence that reshaped our polity — and our nightmares.
Neither should these films ever be allowed, for cinema in India is about forgetting one’s pains, not confronting them. Indian cinema makes us trill, “Mere desh ki dharti”, not worry about why this is vanishing under our feet, in mining scams, land grabs and fraud allotments. After decades of official repression, we now like our films socially irrelevant; truth-seekers like Sebastian should give us a break.