The S Durga maker says it is sad that the mainstream film industry is unable to realize the threat to freedom of expression and doesn't take a stand on it.
IFFI 2017 is relying on glamour to cover up ruptures, says Sanal Sasidharan
Panjim - 27 Nov 2017 22:34 IST
His film S Durga has courted controversy ever since it was titled Sexy Durga. The film had to get a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) before it could be screened at the Mumbai film festival last month, and that was when the 'Sexy' was abbreviated to 'S'.
However, even that was not good enough for the Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, which knocked the film off the list chosen by the jury for the Indian Panorama at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI).
Some jury members resigned in protest, the jury was reconstituted, and the filmmaker moved the courts to fight a system that seems determined to not allow the screening of his film at the festival. With uncertainty still over the film's fate at IFFI, Sanal Sasidharan spoke to Cinestaan.com about fighting for his rights. Excerpts:
After all the controversy, you have managed to make it to IFFI. What has been your interaction with the authorities so far? We hear the film is being screened again for the jury on the penultimate day of the festival.
Yes, unusual things are happening. My film is being discussed for the wrong reasons. I do not want my film to be discussed for the wrong reasons. I thought my film will be appreciated and selected in the normal way. But though the jury selected the film and openly fought for it, there was a court order and an appeal. Tomorrow is the last day [of the festival] and today, at the end of the day, the film is being screened for the jury.
The fact that a jury has been constituted again is unprecedented at a film festival. Maybe for the sake of the court order, they may screen it at some odd time at some odd place. It is very sad, as they say the festival is a platform for good, artistic cinema. This is the biggest festival we have in our country for supporting good films, but they are engaging in silly fights with filmmakers for no reason.
They are inventing new reasons every day, first saying the film was not certified, then that the certified version is not what the jury saw, then they went to court and said there were law and order issues. The latest I am hearing is that even if the jury approves, they need the approval of the local government.
So all this drama is happening around a small film. We have received lots of awards and represented India at more than 50 festivals abroad and won 10 International awards. So it was seen as an Indian film abroad, but in India there is total distrust and disrespect, so I don’t know what is going to happen and what they are going to do.
My struggle is not for my film, it is for the citizens at large, because we elect a government trusting it to uphold rights that the Constitution has given us. For me, when a film is selected I have a right to get it screened properly. I am fighting for that right. I am not fighting for any film now.
So much has happened around your film at this festival. Can you go back to the moment when you entered it at IFFI? What were you hoping for?
Even while entering the film, I knew it would be difficult for it to get an entry because the political situation in our country is so bad. Everybody knows that. People are approaching art and media with a prejudiced mind, so I knew it would be difficult for my film to get an entry, but I got the information that my film is in. Though there is general pessimism, some hope is there that things won’t be so bad. That optimism came to the surface and I was really happy that the film was chosen. But when the announcement was delayed I anticipated that my film won’t be there.
When the jury people said the film list was not what was submitted to the ministry is when I realized my film was taken out. It was surprising that someone from the inside showed the guts to stand up and say this is not right. Then I felt it is my duty to stand up for my film. It is not just for my film, it is for the entire system.
These festivals are the only platforms we have for independent films. If these are hijacked without question, tomorrow we will not have any kind of platform or avenue. So I thought I must go to court and as I am a lawyer I could anticipate things and the court order came, but the court order is treated as just a piece of paper, which is very sad.
We have seen so many filmmakers supporting you at the festival and talking about the screening. There is simmering anger amongst filmmakers about the stifling of creativity. What do you have to say to all those who even wanted to withdraw their films as a mark of solidarity though that doesn’t really help?
What they did is right. Withdrawing is not a positive sign. Simply withdrawing your film and abstaining from the festival will not help. Now what is happening is that the venue is being used to protest in the face of the organizers. So it is a statement that they are making and the entire crowd is with us in that. I am thankful for the support.
How integral has been the role of the media in taking your struggle forward?
The media is considered the strongest pillar of democracy, so media has played a very important role in supporting this. If media had not supported it, this struggle wouldn’t have reached this level. Media is opinion and it is also about the freedom of expression and speech, so media represents that part. It is like a fight we are all fighting together. They identify that something is under threat and that’s a very positive sign.
How important is it for industry to be united at a time like this when both Padmavati and your film are facing controversies?
In the opening and perhaps even the closing ceremony, there will be a lot of glamour. They are relying on this glamour so that Bollywood stars will cover up these ruptures.
Actually, the image of the festival has been damaged in this fight. They are showing how undemocratic and unfair they are. So they will cover it all by bringing the stars, having a song-and-dance party.
It is important that the glamorous part of the industry realizes that this is not just about independent films but is happening to a big-budget film like Padmavati. So people can trash everything. Even then they are not staying away and the star of that film is attending the festival.
Yes, Shahid Kapoor was there at the opening ceremony.
These people do not realize what is happening. Right now it’s happening to one film. Tomorrow, before making a film, they will think about if somebody will be coming to harass us if we make a certain film, so that will deeply hurt our freedom of expression.
It is a very frustrating thing and I think it is very disappointing as these people can participate in the event but they should at least make a statement. At Oscar ceremonies, statements are made by stars about things that they believe in so they can do it too.