Interview Malayalam

Habitat 2019: Censorship is a mockery of the public intellect, says Aabhaasam director Jubith Namradath


Engineer-turned-director Jubith Namradath explains why he felt the need to adapt the idea behind his own short film Democracy: To Each His Own for his first feature.

Sahil Bhalla

Even after getting a theatrical release a year ago, director Jubith Namradath’s Malayalam film Aabhaasam (2018) has been doing the rounds of film festivals. Namradath was all smiles after a near-full house for a screening of his film at the 14th Habitat Film Festival on Saturday 18 May 2019.

In the midst of the Lok Sabha elections, Namradath’s Aabhaasam becomes ever more relevant, bringing all the intellectuals — Gandhi, Ambedkar, Marx, Jinnah and Godse — together for a satirical take on Indian society.

The film takes place on a bus journey from Bangalore to Thiruvananthapuram across state lines. The buses all belong to a company by the name of Democracy Travels.

The film almost entirely takes place on board a bus named Gandhi. The bus brings together people from all walks of life, and the ride is sure to be an eventful one. There is an attractive young man, a lustful conductor, a solo female traveller, a hypocritical Muslim man, a Christian duo, a Hindu pilgrim, a foreigner, a transsexual, among many others, on board.

Jubith Namradath

This is Namradath’s first feature-length film. An engineer working in Bangalore and Chennai, Namradath found his inner voice in the medium of cinema in 2009.

“Since then, I have been trying to meet people, help on film sets, write scripts, make my own short films, meet and talk to prospective producers and a lot of things," Namradath told Cinestaan.com at the festival. "The script of Aabhaasam took final shape in 2016. And I found the producer by the start of 2017 and the film was made.”

The filmmaker wanted to take the idea of representing India as a whole to the masses. Take it to the cinema halls. To get the audience. That’s the story of Aabhaasam.

Namradath is exploring all possible options with over-the-top (OTT) platforms for a possible wider release. In the coming months, you may see Aabhaasam on one of the many digital platforms in India today.

In an interview with Cinestaan.com, Jubith Namradath shed light on the censorship process and film festivals. He also pointed out that his next script is ready and awaiting a producer. Excerpts:

Is this an extension of your short film released back in 2010? That was also set during a bus journey and was a satire on democracy.

So when I started making my own short films, I experimented with various modes of storytelling. I did four short films. Democracy: To Each His Own became the most popular. And post-2014, when the secular fabric of the idea called India was torn apart and communal divisions start to rise like never before, I knew it was time to adapt the short film idea of 'India in a bus' on the big screen. Aabhaasam is not an extension of Democracy: To Each His Own. But both have the metaphor of bus as a predominant character.

Why the title of the film? Is it because it is a provocative title?

Aabhaasam is short for Aarsha Bhaaratha Samskaaram, meaning The Great Vedic Culture. The short form mocks the original meaning as it has another meaning when shortened — Absurdity.

Regarding the theme of the movie, did you face any issues — such as with the title — with the CBFC? The movie got an A [for adults only] rating that was challenged and it was subsequently given a U/A [equivalent to a PG-13 in some other countries] rating. Did anything have to be cut?

We didn't face any issue with the title. But we faced a lot of issues with dialogues and scenes. The film was at the censor gates of Kerala, Mumbai and the special jury at Delhi for about six months. We tried our best to save the entire film and get it a U/A. We were successful, in spite of a few cuts which had to be agreed to.

What's your view on censorship in general? Habitat opened with No Fathers In Kashmir. And now your film. Films at festivals need not have a censor certificate.

Censorship is a mockery of the public intellect. There is no need for the state to say what is watchable and what is not. Moreover, the CBFC [Central Board of Film Certification] is supposed to certify which category a film falls into, not block the release or suggest cuts to a creative output that they have no clue of.

Moreover, censorship and controversies have become part of promotions for a film. That's how the marketing department of a film is looking at it now. It's like you take a book from a public library and underline all the sensuous parts in it and return it so that the next person can read just the underlined paragraphs.

Your film is still doing the rounds of film festivals even after its release. What are your views on film festivals in general?

Film festivals are a great platform for cinema enthusiasts and filmmakers alike. I am glad my film is still finding its stage and audience.

Are film festivals helpful for a new director and his/her first film?

Of course. Festivals have the power to break into unchartered territories of exposure and discussion.

How are Malayalam films received outside of the South?

I think they are received well. Since the start of Indian cinema, Malayalam and Bengali films were acclaimed the most. I personally feel Malayalam cinema had gone down the graph in the past 10, 20 years. But it has realized its mistake and is slowly picking itself up and moving ahead.

What film are you working on next? Could you tell us?

I guess unless a film is made and exhibited, there is no point talking about it. But now that you have asked, my next script is complete and waiting for its probable producer. Let's see.

Related topics

Habitat Film Festival