New Delhi: In what is being seen as an effort to curtail freedom of expression, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) is sitting on clearance of a documentary film critical of Hindutva organisations, which was scheduled to be screened today at the ongoing Kerala festival.
Anand Patwardhan’s Vivek (Reason), a documentary that takes a critical view of the rise of hyper-nationalism and Hindu extremist organisations, such as Sanathan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat, is yet to receive censor exemption from the I&B Ministry required for the film to be screened at International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).
“The Ministry has not yet denied exemption for the film, but asked for a ‘more detailed synopsis’ of it,” The Hindu quoted a source as saying.
According to the official website of IDSFFK, the documentary was scheduled to be screened on June 24. However, it has now been postponed to the last day, which is June 26. The organisers of the festival “hope to procure clearance before that.”
Newsclick spoke to Kamal, Festival Director of IDSFFK. According to him, since the movie is available on YouTube and it has already been viewed by many individuals, the government can’t straightaway deny censor exemption.
“We are waiting for permission since the last 20 days. Even after sending the ‘detailed synopsis’, no reply has been received from the ministry. As an activist and a filmmaker, I protest this attitude of the ministry,” he said.
As per the policy for Certification of Films for Film Festivals, the I&B Ministry must dispose the request for censor exemption within 15 days from the date of receipt of the proposal from the Director of the Festival.
However, by asking for more details on the movie, the ministry has effectively delayed the screening of the movie.
Had the ministry chosen to deny the exemption to the film, as it had done in past, reasons for the same would have to be recorded in writing, as per the policy. The ministry need not give any explanation for asking for a ‘detailed synopsis’.
Newsclick was not able to reach Amit Khare, Secretary, I&B Ministry of Information despite several attempts.
The organisers and the filmmaker will file an appeal in the Kerala High Court on Tuesday and are hoping to receive a positive response.
Negative Invocation of Power
For a film to be screened at film festivals, it either needs a censor certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or censor exemption.
To deny censor exemption to films, the I&B Ministry invokes Section 9 of the Cinematograph Act, which confers power on it to reject the request for exemption to any film(s) “if, in its opinion, it would impinge on the security or integrity of the country or affect law and order or affect relations with other countries.”
The ministry has used this power many a times in recent past without even giving a written response to the filmmakers – mandated by the same Section of the Act.
Three documentaries, in 2017, were denied censor exemption without assigning any reason by the ministry. The documentaries - In the Shade of Fallen Chinar (on the life of ordinary Kashmiris), March March March (on the JNU protests in Feb 2016) and The Unbearable Being of Lightness (on the life and death of Rohith Vemula) – were selected to be screened at the IDSFFK.
The ministry, in 2015, also banned the screening of a documentary film on beef eating practices titled Caste on the Menu Card. The organizers were communicated verbally by an official that “the documentary might be harmful in political and religious ways.”
Attempts that deprive artists of their freedom of expression have often been met with protests from aggrieved filmmakers and activists. However, with BJP in power, such moves seem to be becoming commonplace.