The Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival deciding to cancel screening the Pakistani classic Jago Hua Savera, citing “the current situation”, is absolutely craven. It reflects a weak-kneed surrender to the same forces of intolerance and bullying several leading lights of MAMI themselves have earlier criticised — their words sound like hollow dialogue when put to the test today.
The right to screen Jago Hua Savera is worth fighting for. The 1959 film, directed by A.J. Kardar, is famous both for its neo-realism and its unusual South Asian collaboration. Based on a story by Bengali writer Manik Bandopadhyay, the film’s screenplay was written by the iconic Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Its music was composed by India’s Timir Baran with Pakistan’s Noman Taseer while the film featured remarkable performances by Bangladesh’s Khan Ataur Rahman and Tripti Mitra of the Indian People’s Theatre Association. The movie, which won a gold medal at the 1959 Moscow International Film Festival, was digitally restored and screened in this year’s Cannes Film Festival. MAMI which has earned a reputation for showcasing cinematic talent should have stood its ground on this film, which showcases fine South Asian talent working on themes — poverty, inequity, aspirations — that still prevail. But a threat from one NGO was enough to make MAMI yield. And undermine its reputation as a film festival.
MAMI could have shown liberty’s way for universities, theatres, stadiums, arenas of culture embattled by the mob. Instead of making a strong statement by screening the film — or moving the court to fight for its right, if need be — MAMI seems to have decided to be a glitzy stage for yet another Bollywood show, where you click your tongue and mouth fine words of tolerance but refuse to take a stand. It’s time MAMI turns the spotlight on itself and clarifies whether it believes in real liberty — or if it’s comfortable being a please-all event murmuring, so jao, hua andhera.