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KIFF 2017: Keep making films that cause trouble, say the Brothers Babusenan on censorship

Filmmaker Jiju Antony speaks of how archaic and absurd rules affect independent filmmakers who work with tiny budgets.

Satish and Santosh Babusenan at a panel discussion. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Sukhpreet Kahlon

We often hear of filmmakers' run-ins with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the censor board, over the use of swear words or the depiction of sexual imagery or nudity, but they are not the only ones combating the CBFC's archaic and sometimes illogical rules.

Independent filmmaker Jiju Antony revealed at the first Kazhcha Indie Film Festival (KIFF), which ended yesterday, that his latest film is stuck with the CBFC because he has not yet got the mandatory clearance from the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).

The rules state that any film that uses animals in the shooting has to be cleared by the Chennai-based AWBI. This rule was incorporated to ensure that animals are not harmed during the making of the film. So far so good. Here is where the amusing part comes.

Jiju's film has a sequence shot in a buffalo shed. Now, according to him, the rules state that a filmmaker cannot shoot more than four buffaloes. And what makes things worse for Jiju is that none of those buffaloes can be a male!

Thanks to these arbitrary and even absurd rules, Jiju's film is entangled in a tedious process for certification.

The filmmaker revealed this during a panel discussion on the challenges faced by independent filmmakers, held on the fourth and final day of the KIFF.

Filmmaker brothers Santosh and Satish Babusenan and Richter Scale 7.6 producer Sajith Kumar were also part of the discussion along with actresses Archana Padmini and Rachana R Shelar.

Talking about the low-budget independent films they make, Santosh Babusenan said they have to make several sacrifices. “We work with very tiny budgets," he said. "As a result, we are never able to colour-correct our films. We just make minor adjustments on FCP [a popular film-editing software], so that is a handicap. Otherwise, when we make films, we are only bothered about the idea we want to convey. What we are saying is more important than the story itself.”

Satish added, “We are concerned with the theme we want to explore. Our films mostly deal with existential questions but in an approachable way…We would like the audience to start thinking and asking these questions themselves.”

The brothers spoke about the ways in which their films explore certain ideas. Their first film, Chaayam Poosiya Veedu (The Painted House, 2015) looked at fake morality by using the image of a painted house. Ottayaal Paatha (The Narrow Path, 2016) explored the reasons for our unhappiness. Maravi (Lost, 2017) delves into the reasons why we forget things. However, the filmmakers consciously use the language of everyday life to communicate larger ideas. They also said making films with their own money offers a certain freedom as they do not want to be answerable to anyone.

Talking about his experience of making a crowd-funded film, Sajith Kumar said it was necessary for a film to generate some funds to enable the filmmaker to make the next one.

Santosh spoke about his journey that led him to become a filmmaker. The brothers decided to make films after they had reached their fifties, though the desire had been in them ever since their youth. As they came to the craft pretty late in life, the brothers were very clear about their objectives. Explaining, Santosh said, “We are very clear that we will not compromise. We won’t change anything in our films, even for the CBFC. We are too old to bother. We have lost too many years so we quickly make the films that we want.” Addressing Kumar’s concern he said they pay their artistes and studios but do not get paid themselves.

He explained that their films are made on very tight budgets of Rs10-15 lakh. “We are always paying for our previous film," he joked. "Studios give us credit and the moment some award money comes in, we pay our actors and the studio.”

The filmmakers also spoke about the use of nudity and sex scenes in their films. Satish said it was important for the director to communicate clearly with the artistes. He also addressed the problem of censorship, saying, “If you want to shoot nudity in your film and your actor is willing to shoot, you should be able to shoot what you want to shoot.”

On this point, Archana Padmini and Rachana Shelar said that while some directors are genuine about the use of sexuality and nudity in their films, others try to use them for different purposes. Satish replied that as no one really knows what is genuine art, every filmmaker should be able to make whatever he wants to make.

Offering a solution to the kind of row in which Sexy Durga and Nude have been entangled at last month's International Film Festival of India in Goa and the current International Film Festival of Kerala, Santosh said, “FFSI [the Federation of Film Societies of India] can give a certificate which allows exemption for a festival. We learnt this just yesterday, so filmmakers can use this for their films. It might help.”

As for their own films, the brothers were adamant. “We will not censor, we will fight,” said Santosh Babusenan. He observed that while the interference of the state has intensified with the present BJP-led government, the state has always tried to clamp down on creativity. 

He offered a radical response to this problem. “We have to keep making films that cause trouble. If we keep at it, eventually the government will have to take notice.”

Echoing the thought, Satish joked, "Maybe we should have small-budget films with lots of nudity and violence and just bombard the censors so they keep running around in courts. If more people start doing it, the government will have to give a damn.”

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival