On June 9, when Ramchandra PN learnt that the Information & Broadcasting Ministry had denied his film a certificate to screen it at International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), he was taken by surprise. Titled The Unbearable Being of Lightness, the 45-minute film explores the issue of caste discrimination through the prism of the protests that followed Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in 2016. “The narrative unfolds around his death but he isn’t the subject, nor have I attempted to ask or answer ‘Who killed Rohith Vemula?’,” says Ramchandra, “But the I&B ministry must have read his name in the film’s synopsis and decided that it’s too controversial to screen.” Kamal, the chairman of festival organiser Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, has appealed for a review on the ministry’s decision and awaits the response.
Meanwhile, the makers of the other two films that the I&B refused screening certificates too, are taking legal recourse in the matter. Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian, directors of the 16-minute In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, which is set in Kashmir, have applied for interim relief so as to screen their film at the festival, which begins on June 16 at Thiruvananthapuram. Kathu Lukose has also approached the Kerala High Court for March, March, March, which captures the protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) following student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest.
While the makers of the three films are all battling the same demon, of state censorship, they have all chosen to do it on their own. “The subjects are all vastly different. Also, we all are in different cities. I am in Kerala whereas Ramchandra is in Mumbai, Fazil in Calicut and Sebastian in Bangalore,” says Lukose, who will upload her 18-minute film on YouTube in a couple of days.
However, one aspect is common in all three films — they are all accidental projects. Ramchandra was invited by the Hyderabad University to conduct a documentary workshop, but it was postponed following Vemula’s suicide. When Ramchandra eventually went to Hyderabad, he found himself amidst the politically charged atmosphere. The workshop served as a means of documentation. “Shopcom, the shopping complex on the campus, was the epicentre of student activity and made for an interesting backdrop to shoot,” says Ramchandra. His students also shot the reading of Vemula’s suicide letter. Later, Ramchandra included journalist Sudipto Mondal’s report on Vemula’s family as part of the 45-minute documentary as well, taking the narrative beyond Vemula and politics to focus on caste. The film premiered last year at a film festival in Kolkata and has since had several public screenings.
Lukose, much like Ramchandra, found herself amidst an unexpected unrest last year. A media student, Lukose started shooting in order to capture the goings-on at the university. “There was period after Kanhaiya’s arrest when media wasn’t allowed on the campus. It was important to capture that and let the world know the truth,” says Lukose, who focuses on the national versus anti-national debate that was triggered after an attempt to defame the university. March, March, March is to premiere at the five-day festival.
Fazil and Sebastian’s journey to the conflict zone in Kashmir began as a vacation. The two filmmakers met a bunch of artists-students from Kashmir University at the Kochi Muziris Biennale two years ago. They decided to make a trip to the state. “One day, we discovered that a fallen Chinar in the university campus has become a hub for all artists, many of who use their art – music, storytelling, fine arts, drama and so on – as a means of resistance. That’s when we decided to document the movement,” says Sebastian, “In the film, we attempt to point out that these youth have chosen to pick up a guitar over a gun as a means of resistance.” While the ministry has not given reasons for denying the films screening certificates, common conjecture points to the sensitive subjects.