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A scene from the documentary ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’
A scene from the documentary ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’

Films in trouble

A look at three films that are stuck with the Central Board of Film Certification

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Bollywood and mainstream commercial films have the upper hand in the fight against censorship compared to small regional films and documentaries. Made independently, without the backing of powerful media houses and industry clout, small films suffer the most. Here are three that are stuck with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

En Dino Muzaffarnagar (2014)

When they are dealing with politically potent issues, documentary film-makers normally approach the censor board as a safety measure against potential threats by extra-judicial elements. But for Meera Chaudhary, the journey to get clearance from the CBFC for the documentary En Dino Muzaffarnagar, which began in June 2014, has been kafkaesque. She lost her husband, Shubhradeep Chakravorty, the same year. A ban on the film by the board, intervention by the Delhi high court, multiple hearings and ambiguous certification laws have ensured that the film’s premiere in Mumbai in 2014 has been its only public screening.

The two-and-a-half-hour film is an investigation into the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. It doesn’t take sides, says Chaudhary. “It has been called anti-national and communally inflammatory by the CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani.... I want people to see the film and decide if it is anti-national. The film is logical and shows the truth: the role of both the political parties, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Samajwadi Party, in the riots." The fifth hearing of the case is in August—it has been scheduled just a few days before Chakravorty’s second death anniversary.

The Battle Of Banaras (2015)

The CBFC’s refusal to green-light The Battle Of Banaras is an example of how sensitive the board has become to anything remotely political. The film, admits director Kamal Swaroop, is relatively benign compared to scathing documentaries such as Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution or Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Ram Ke Naam’. Its subject may be the high-profile contest for Varanasi between Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal in the 2014 Lok Sabha election but its intentions are more cinematic than political. Taking off from German author Elias Canetti’s book Crowds And Power, it is more about the dynamics between a crowd and powerful rulers.

The CBFC, however, saw a different film. Their views were quite similar to their take on ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’—the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body that hears appeals against CBFC certification, described the film as one that can cause not only “communal disharmony but also disharmony among the members of different castes and communities".

Unlike most documentaries in the country, The Battle Of Banaras was eyeing a theatrical release. Swaroop’s hopes are now pinned on the judiciary. Meanwhile, he is already looking at foreign distributors for the release.

Salagto Sawaal Anamat (2016)

The Gujarati film Salagto Sawaal Anamat (the ‘burning question of reservation’), which allegedly shows the Patel agitation for reservations in the state in a favourable light, has also run into trouble with the CBFC. The board objected to the protagonist’s similarity to Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel (who was externed from the state for six months and was recently granted bail) and deemed some of the dialogue as being against Babasaheb Ambedkar.

It has also asked for the word ‘patidar’ to be removed from the film. The CBFC is reported to have asked for 100 cuts. The makers—director Rajesh Gohil and co-producer Jaypratapsinh Chauhan—have had to make seven trips to the CBFC’s Mumbai office and are still awaiting a nod from the board’s revising committee. In a June report in ‘The Indian Express’, Gohil has been quoted as saying that most of the officials in the current censor board don’t understand the Gujarati language, and appealed to the Prime Minister to set up an independent Gujarati-language certification board.

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