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Interview Malayalam

IFFK 2017: We cannot show a film without censor or exemption certificate, says Bina Paul

The artistic director of International Film Festival of Kerala spoke to Cinestaan.com about the S Durga row, the Women in Cinema Collective and the possibility of screening a film without a censor board certificate.

Anita Paikat

This year has been rough for two of the major film festivals in India — International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). For most part, the bone of contention for these festivals has been one film — Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga. While at IFFI the Union information and broadcasting ministry unceremoniously replaced the film, along with Ravi Jadhav’s Nude, from the selected list for the Indian Panorama, the IFFK has been accused by Sanal of not providing indie films the platform they deserve.

In an amicable protest, Sanal, with the Kazhcha Film Forum, has organized a separate festival catering to independent filmmakers. 

Bina Paul, artistic director of IFFK, spoke to Cinestaan.com at length about the other side of the argument, the possibility of screening a film without a censor board certificate, the newly-formed Women in Cinema Collective, and the Padmavati row.     


You began as an editor and then became an activist. Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Delhi. I was studying there and I applied at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and got in. I studied editing at FTII and after that was over, I met my husband Venu (Venugopal) who is a cinematographer. He was from Kerala so we decided to shift here, even though I didn’t know the language and a single other soul here. But luckily there was an alumni sort of background, including G Arvindan who was a family friend here. Through them I got little openings into cinema and I started editing. I edited for a few years and then I stopped for a while when I had my baby. Later, I got a job at Centre for Development Studies as a senior editor. 

While I was at the FTII, I had done a kind of internship with IFFI (International Film Festival of India). So, I had three months of experience of that. When they started the festival (IFFK), the second year they asked me to come work here. Then there was a gap and when Adoor Gopalakrishnan became the chairman, he called me back to work for IFFK. That was about 17 years ago and I’ve been associated with the festival since, with a gap of two years in between.

The Ockhi cyclone had created havoc in the state. Did you expect less participation from the public this year?

No. We didn’t expect the crowds to be lesser, but a little more sombre, yes.

The cultural festivities were cancelled...

Yeah. That was really sad. But you know it is inappropriate to have song, dance and all that. Though it is a bit of a sad thing to happen and we suffered a bit of a loss, we decided to cancel those events.

Tell us something about the recently established Women in Cinema Collective in Kerala. What are the plans?

The immediate reason of setting up the collective was the assault (of a Malayalam actress). But, I think it was brewing in our minds a lot. One is we have a commission in place to study the situation of women in the industry, because there is no statistic, no data, no understanding of what are the systems in place, etc. Secondly, more than a grand membership drive, we are saying let us try and talk to the organizations. Let us try and put into place maternal benefits, a legal cell, a counselling cell, you know things like that. 

At the moment, we have registered as a core group of about 21 members. We have to raise money, make a programme, get all this in place, then we will open it up for membership.

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The IFFK has a section called ‘With Her’ wherein films by male directors on female protagonists from the 20th century are being screened. Why focus on the 20th century?

It’s very complex. After the 20th century there have been many many films on women. But there is a questionability about these films. Also the fact is that we do packages that are historically important. It’s important to revive the memory that even though Malayalam cinema is considered patriarchal, there have been landmark films that have focused on women. Also, I think that is the purpose of film festivals: reviving, writing history. So if that history is not told, it’s (festival) incomplete.

The Kazhcha Indie Film Festival organizers say that IFFK does not provide an equal platform for indie filmmakers.

I think that is totally untrue. You know, it also (depends on) your definition of independent. The definition of independent, as far as I am concerned, is not only in process, but also in content. And most of the films that were chosen are films that have tried to push the envelope in terms of how they tell a story, the techniques they use, the narratives, etc. So there are some films like that.

There are films (in IFFK) that have been made very independently. Both the films in competition (section), Aedan and Randuper, are made independently. Both films are made in a very small budget. So the narrative is not true that we are only promoting big budget films. We, in fact, also invited S Durga and they chose not to come to the festival. If you look at our Indian Cinema Now section, there is no big film. You look at Goa (International Film Festival of India), Mumbai Film Festival. We are much more inclined, but we do not deny that the mainstream has interesting work too. 

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There is a confusion over the necessity to have a censor board certificate when it comes to screening of films at film festivals...

Either you have a certificate or you don’t. If you don’t have a certification, the academy or the person running the festival applies to the I&B ministry (information and broadcasting ministry) and they give you permission, saying within these seven days you are allowed to screen the film. We can’t show it again anywhere else. It is called an exemption from certification for that period.

Now, take S Durga for example. If they had a censor board certificate we would have shown it as a special screening. They didn’t have it. And we have to apply for the exemption within a period of time. We didn’t have the time to apply. There is no way we can show a film without either the exemption or the censor certificate. This happened with Nude. Yesterday's (10 December) screening of the film was cancelled. Today if they don’t have the certificate, that screening will be cancelled too.

Currently, the Padmavati row is huge in Mumbai. Kerala is one of the states that has remained silent on the issue.

Padmavati doesn’t affect us. We would never want to be a part of that debate, I would say. Let the film be released, let it be seen by people who want to, let it not be seen by people who don’t want to. I am completely of that opinion. Watch the film if you like it, if you don’t like it don’t watch it. But to make offensiveness the criteria for release is not right.

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