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Kerala HC upholds ban on documentaries at Kerala Film Festival citing threat to 'national integrity'

The court dismissed a plea on the screening of four films, In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar, Mujahir, The Unbearable Being Of Lightness, and March-March citing threats to the 'integrity of the country'.

Screenshot/In The Shadow Of The Fallen Chinar

Shriram Iyengar

The Kerala high court upheld a ban on the public screening of four documentary films to be screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival in Thiruvananthapuram.

The films, In The Shade Of The Fallen Chinar (a film on Kashmir's art revival amidst the protests), The Unbearable Being of Lightness (a documentary on deceased Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula), March-March-March (based on the JNU protests) and Mujahir (a documentary on the growing separatist movement in Kashmir).

The information and broadcasting ministry had appealed for a ban on these films from being screened publicly. The Kerala State Chalachithra Academy, the organiser of the festival, had approached the court in an appeal against the ban. However, the court cited a threat to 'the integrity of the country' as grounds for upholding the ban.

Judgement by Megha Mathur on Scribd

In a quote to digital channel The Quint, filmmakers Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian, directors of In The Shade Of THe Fallen Chinar, said, "However, this fight is not just for inclusion of these films in IDSFFK. We must seriously analyse the rules that give sweeping powers to the ministry to ban any documentary arbitrarily. This is a beginning. In the coming years, we would see more films facing the wrath of the central government. We do look forward to the response of Kerala Chalachithra Academy in this matter. We believe the academy should lead from the front in campaigns against such censorships."

Following the ban, 160 filmmakers, artists, and academics had written to I&B minister, Venkaiah Naidu, questioning the grounds of the ban, and asking to restrict the government's efforts to curtail filmmakers' freedom of expression.

The judgment of the Kerala high court, though not definitive, is a blow to the organisers' wish of screening these films at the festival. The organisers' do have the option of appealing to a higher authority, but given the lack of time it means that the films will not find screen time at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival this year.

The films have been uploaded on YouTube, and are available for private viewing of audiences.