The Gujarati movie, The Good Road, which has been selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars, has raked up controversy with about a dozen film-makers in Gujarat protesting against the content of the film. Earlier this week, film-makers staged a dharna near Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, claiming that the film showed Kutch and Gujarat in a poor light. The film is about three intersecting lives on a journey in the salt deserts of Kutch and how their lives transform at the end.

In one of the sequences, the film shows a highway brothel in Kutch where young girls are traded for flesh. While Gyan Correa, who has written and directed the film, maintained in an earlier interaction that the film is a fiction, critics are also challenging the merit of the film for making it to Oscars over 17 other films, including English Vinglish, The Lunchbox, Ship of Theseus and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The Good Road was released in select theatres in Gujarat in mid-July. It failed to garner much response at the box office.

Indian films, especially those selected for international awards, are not new to controversy and many have been dubbed as “anti-national" before.

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, produced by a UK production house, that won eight Oscars in 2009 and four Golden Globe awards, came in for criticism in India even before its release here. The film revolves around a person from the slums and his claim to fame. Most of the cast and crew of the film was from India. A blog entry by Bollywood film actor Amitabh Bachchan, in which he asked if the film would have generated so much hype if it were made by an Indian director, led to many critics, actors and film-makers lining up for and against the film. Bachchan later said that the controversy was created by media reports.

Many slum-dwellers in Mumbai and Pune protested against the title of the film and said it represented the underbelly of Mumbai in a negative way. Some activists and film-makers alleged that the film highlighted Western stereotypes about poverty in India and that it was “poverty porn".

The debate on whether Indian films should or should not showcase the dark side of the country is not a new one. It dates back to Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the first Indian film post-Independence that attracted major international critical acclaim. The film, regarded as one of world cinema’s greatest directorial debut, won the “Best Human Document" at the 1956 Cannes International Film Festival.

In Andrew Robinson’s book Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye (released in 1989), the author has quoted Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosowa as saying that Pather Panchali “is the kind of cinema that flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river... People are born, live out their lives, and then accept their deaths. Without the least effort and without any sudden jerks, Ray paints his picture, but its effect on the audience is to stir up deep passions. How does he achieve this? There is nothing irrelevant or haphazard in his cinematographic technique. In that lies the secret of its excellence."

In 1980, Ray faced criticism from member of Parliament and former actor Nargis Dutt, who accused him of “exporting poverty". While many hailed Pather Panchali as a eulogy of developing world culture, others criticized it for what they took to be romanticization of such a culture.

Memboob Khan’s Mother India, a Hindi epic melodrama film made in 1957 and starring Nargis, was India’

s first official entry for Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film was shortlisted for the top 5 entries for the 1958 Oscars.

The title of the film was chosen to counter US historian Katherine Mayo’s 1927 book Mother India, a polemical attack against Indian self-rule.

Mira Nair, whose debut film Salaam Bombay in 1988 got nominated for Oscars in the foreign language category, was also criticized for the way it chronicled the life of street urchins in Mumbai. The strength of the film lies in its extraordinary realism for which it won the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Deepa Mehta’s film Water was dubbed by some Hindu fundamentalists as being “anti-Hindu". The director had to stop shooting of the film in Varanasi in 2000 after angry mob launched violent protests, demolishing the set and equipment. A major part of the film was then shot outside India, in Sri Lanka. Water was chosen as Canada’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars. The film was short-listed among the top 5 foreign language films. There has been a lot of debate over the selection criteria of a film for India’s official entry to Oscars as well. The selection of Anurag Basu’s film Barfi! last year, especially over films like Paan Singh Tomar, did not go down well with many film critics and film lovers. Some argued that many scenes were strikingly similar to scenes in films like The Notebook, Amélie, Underdog and Singin’ in the Rain and social networking sites were full of such allegations. The film-maker said his film was an original and he was paying a tribute to the great film-makers by adapting their scenes.

Bhavna Talwar, director of Dharm (starring Pankaj Kapoor), had sought legal action against the Film Federation of India for selecting Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya: The Royal Guard in 2007 over her film for the Oscars. Talwar’s film received rave reviews at the Cannes festival.

Another film that was highly acclaimed by critics and could have won an Oscar for India but was not selected by the selection committee in India is Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen. The film, released in 1994, was based on the life of dacoit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi.

Most of the film-makers would be of the opinion that cinema represents freedom of expression and that there should be little censorship or diktats on how a film should be made. But then such formal protests are the beauty of our democracy.

Take the case of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s yet to be released Ramleela, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet love story shows that two religious groups taking on each other.

On the basis of the promos released so far, a case has been filed in a local court in Jaipur, Rajasthan, alleging that the film is promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.

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