Stuck between censors and thugs

BY GEETA SESHU| IN Censorship | 25/08/2015
Two films on the Muzaffarnagar riots struggle to be seen as the censor board denies certification and right-wing activists disrupt screenings. Protest screenings of one of them are scheduled for today,
says GEETA SESHU

Leave alone justice for the riot victims of Muzaffarnagar, even the two documentary films that were made on the violence that broke out in August 2013 have been embroiled in bans and court cases.

En dino Muzaffarnagar has suffered protests and disruptions of screenings by right-wing activists and the schedule screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai in Mumbai has been postponed.

More than 60 persons died and over 50,000 persons were displaced in the riots that broke out in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Prdesh in 2013. Both films probe the genesis of the riots and are critical of the role played by the BJP, and the Samajwadi Party government in UP,  in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.

August 25, 2015 marks the first death anniversary of Shubradeep Chakravorty, the young film-maker who made En Dino Muzaffarnagar, which was initially banned by the Kolkata regional office of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) but now has an ‘A’ certificate with a few minor cuts, following a Delhi High Court order directing that the film be viewed by a Revising Committee.

In the meantime, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, made by Delhi-based film-maker Nakul Sawhney, ran into trouble with activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in Kirori Mal College, Delhi, on August 1, 2015. The activists, who barged into the college seminar room, heckled staff and students an hour after the film screening was well underway and forced them to stop the screening.

Now, as a protest against this disruption, a well-coordinated schedule of screenings of MuzaffarnagarBaaqi Hai has been planned all over India on August 25, to coincide with Chakarvorty’s anniversary. A Facebook page announcemententitled You stop us at one place, we spring up everywhere!’ states that the screenings are a protest against the attempts of the current government to silence dissent.

But even here there has been a hitch. The screening was meant to happen at the Hive, a quaint collaborative office space with seminar rooms and an organic caféin the western suburb of Bandra-Khar. The owners told The Hoot that the screening was cancelled due to a technical glitch.

However, the organisers of the screening said that the Hive received a visit from the Khar police station on Sunday evening ostensibly to seek information on the screening and to convey the ‘fears’ of the police that the film screening could result in communal violence. The veiled threat appears to have worked and the screening was cancelled.

Caught between the official censorship of the state and its various agencies and the unofficial censorship of vigilante groups on the streets, the space for filmmakers has shrunk alarmingly.

En Dino Muzaffarnagar vs CBFC

Chakravorty, who made Godhratak; the terror trail, Encountered on Saffron Agenda?on the Ishrat Jehan killings, Out of Court Settlement, on the killing of lawyer Shahid Azmi and After the Storm on seven youths wrongly accused of terrorism, chose to seek a censor certificate for his last film, En Dino Muzaffarnagar.

His wife and co-director Meera Chaudhary told The Hoot that the decision was prompted by the idea that the film needed a much wider audience and that certification would protect the film from attacks by vigilante groups. Generally, documentary film-makers end up settling for private screenings of political or controversial films instead of battling the censor board.

Shubradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary

 Shubradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary 

 

However, the Kolkata regional office of the CBFC where the couple applied for a certificate, refused the certification outright, stating that the film infringed paragraphs 2 (xii) & 2 (xiii) of the guidelines for certification of films for public exhibition(2(xii):  visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented and xiii) visuals or words which promote communal, obscurantist, anti-scientific and anti-national attitude are not presented.

On July 30, 2014, Chakravorty filed an appeal before the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) but tragically, hesuffered a brain hemorrhage on August 11 in Delhi and was admitted to hospital. He was unaware of the FCAT order passed on August 19, upholding the Kolkata regional CBFC decision on the grounds that the film ‘is highly critical of one political party (BJP) and takes its top leadership by name and tends to give an impression of the said party’s involvement in communal disturbances’.

Meera Chaudhary, who barely had time to grieve after her husband died, filed a petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the order on October 15 on the grounds that the film showed ‘how the politics of hate were engineered by politicians for their own benefit and how the divide created by the riots set the tone of the elections at the relevant time’.

The CBFC and FCAT orders showed complete non-application of mind and an arbitrary exercise of power to restrict Art 19 (1) of the Constitution, the petition maintained.

Justice Vibhu Bhakru of the Delhi High Court set aside both the CBFC and FCAT orders and, on the court’s direction, the film was screened for a reviewing committee on January 6, 2015 in Mumbai.

The committee suggested the granting of an ‘A’ certificate with a few cuts since the ‘theme, treatment and presentation of the film may be provocative and that religious sentiments may be hurt’. The cuts suggested: that the word ‘Hindu’ be removed from the reference to ‘Hindu right wing party; that the text ‘divide created by Muzaffarnagar riots paid off’ be deleted and the third, that the comment in a sound byte – ‘Quran Sharif kojalayaauruspar pant utarkenanganachkiya’- be deleted.

In addition, the film-maker was asked to obtain a certificate from the Animal Welfare Board and to insert two disclaimers – one on anti-smoking and the other that the views expressed by the film-maker were not meant to hurt the sentiments of any religion/caste or community. All of which was done and communicated to the board.

Now, with all the formalities over, the CBFC regional board in Mumbai had to approve the film and issue the certificate. But thus far, there has been no response, much less an acknowledgement, of the submission made by MeeraChaudhary to the board. The Hoot’s attempts to contact the board’s regional Officer, RajuVaidya, also came to naught.

To certify or not to certify

Given the experience of filmmakers like Shubradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary, as well as the battles fought by Anand Patwardhan with the censor board, the decision of several film-makers to shun this process may seem perfectly justified. Most of them are put off by the entire experience of obtaining a certificate and decide to release their films directly online or host private, free screenings.

Film maker Pankaj Butalia, who is battling the CBFC for his film on Kashmir, The Textures of Loss, said that he didn’t even waste time trying to obtain a certificate for another film, Manipur’s song, because he felt that, as a scathing critique of the Indian state’s policy towards Manipur, it wouldn’t get a certificate easily.

But he assumed the film on Kashmir would be seen as more ‘benign’ and applied for a certificate only to have it rejected by the CBFC and FCAT. But in May, Justice Rajiv Sakhdar of the Delhi High Court ordered the CBFC to grant the film a ‘U’ certificate without any cuts.

Now, in what seems to be an unprecedented move, the CBFC is actually appealing against the order of the court and the case is expected to come up on August 27.

What, pray, are film-makersto do? Do they decide to keep pushing at the boundaries of state censors or risk disruptions and violence while the state looks on?

 

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