Days after the Information & Broadcasting Ministry dropped S Durga from the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), the Kerala High Court Tuesday ordered the screening of the Malayalam film at the festival.
Acting on a petition by S Durga’s director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan who had challenged the exclusion of his film from IFFI, Justice Vinod Chandran ordered that the certified version of the film be screened at the festival.
I&B Ministry standing counsel C G Preetha said the government was considering a challenge to the order.
The Ministry argued that the filmmakers had submitted an uncertified version of the film for the festival, and in such a case, the film needed to get exemption from the Ministry as per regulations. Since the makers of S Durga hadn’t obtained any such exemption within the specified span, the Ministry said it could not allow the film’s screening at the festival.
The Ministry also objected to the petition on grounds of jurisdiction. It said simply because characters in the film speak Malayalam, or the film had been shot in Kerala did not confer the High Court jurisdiction to interfere with a decision taken in New Delhi not to screen the film at the festival.
But the High Court cleared the screening, pointing out that the film had been certified by the regional office of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This certified version of the film, it said, could be screened at IFFI which opened Monday.
“The jury has included the film for screening in the festival after viewing the un-censored version itself. When even the un-censored version was found to be worthy by the jury for presentation, there can be no objection raised as to the certified version being screened,’’ the single-judge bench said.
A delighted Sasidharan, who is in Australia, hailed the court ruling as a victory of “cinema and democracy”, a PTI report said. He is attending the Asia Pacific screen festival in Brisbane, where he has been nominated in the best director category for the film.
Sasidharan had approached the High Court last week, seeking an interim order to direct IFFI organisers to include his film in the Indian Panorama section of the festival, and calling its exclusion “arbitrary”, “illegal” and “unjust”. S Durga narrates the bitter experiences of a hitchhiking couple.
Responding to the High Court direction, Apurva Asrani, who had quit the jury in protest, said: “Why is a woman worshipped in a temple but treated as a mere sex object on our streets? S Durga explores that question brilliantly and we as jury were proud to have programmed it.”
“I don’t know how and why it got dropped, but I have always believed that if our I & B Minister, who is an empowered woman herself, were to see this film, she would go all out to support it. I am also thankful to several members of the jury who spoke up in support of S Durga and Nude. I am sure it has helped Sanal’s case,” Asrani said.
Suresh Heblikar, also on the jury, said: “I don’t know the details of the case but indeed this is quite a victory. How the film will be accommodated, I am not sure. But I am eager to see the film at the festival.”