The entire country is talking about resorting to violence in the name of movie Padmavati. Nervous because of opposition by the Hindu Right wing, including several BJP and Congress State governments, even the film-makers postponed the release of the film. But there are two movies -- 'Game of Ayodhya' and 'Muzaffarnagar - the Burning Love' -- whose censorship by the Yogi Adityanath government, has largely gone unnoticed.
The way the two films are being treated, it seems that the BJP government of Uttar Pradesh, instead of facilitating release of movies, has found an easy way of censoring content which is even remotely related to sensitive topics.
The movie 'Muzaffarnagar - the Burning Love' was released this week. It has the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots as its background, because of which it faced a virtual ban in entire western Uttar Pradesh. The movie has not been shown in a single theatre of the riots-affected region. Over sixty people were killed in the communal violence, and more than fifty thousand people, mainly Muslims, were left displaced.
The producer of the movie, Manoj Kumar Mandi, alleged that the district administration of western Uttar Pradesh ordered the theatre owners not to screen the film. While the officials denied the allegation, many single-theatre owners agreed with Mandi's accusations and confirmed the “unofficial ban”.
“What is highly ironic is that the officials of district administrations like Muzaffarnagar watched the movie 'Muzaffarnagar — The Burning Love' and had found nothing objectionable. The film gets its inspiration from the communal riots of 2013 but it is much more than that. It is probably why the officials could find nothing objectionable in it,” Mandi said.
Talking about the unofficial censorship, the filmmaker said, “An oral order has been sent to cinema owners in districts of western UP like Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Bijnor, Saharanpur, Baghpat and others, not to screen the film which is highly unfortunate.”
But when NewsClick talked to Muzaffarnagar East Additional District Magistrate Harish Chandra, he said there was no ban on the movie. He blamed the cinema owners for not screening the movie. “As far as I am aware of the situation in Muzaffarnagar, there is no ban on it from our side. But it seems that the theatre owners are hesitant about screening the film as it has implications on the law and order,” Chandra said.
Similarly, the Divisional Commissioner of Saharanpur, Deepak Agarwal, and ADMs in Bijnor and Baghpat, Madan Singh and Lokpal Singh, rejected the accusations of the film-maker.
However, Mandi's allegations seem to be accurate when NewsClick talked to the cinema owners of Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor and Saharanpur.
Ramesh Gupta of Novelty Cinema in Muzaffarnagar confirmed the “oral directives to the cinema owners not to show the movie”.
He said that the ongoing civic body polls and the serious implication on the law and order of the sensitive region was the pretext on which the cinema owners were asked not to run the movie.
“The theatre owners of many districts in western UP were orally asked not to show the film. We were said that it could lead to law and order issues,” Gupta said.
Mandi was able to convince the owners Novelty cinema to run one show for which he had an audience of saints and theatre actors last Sunday. But while the movie was playing, police personnel from Civil Lines reached the cinema hall and stopped the movie.
Many cinema owners of Bijnor told NewsClick that they were told by officials that if they screen the movie, they themselves will be held responsible for any incident. The administration also told them clearly that it will not provide them with any security.
Similarly, they were also apprehensive about 'Game of Ayodhya' a love story between a Hindu youth and a Muslim girl, set in the backdrop of the demolition of Babri mosque.
Senior officials of Ayodhya told NewsClick that they were not aware of the official ban on the movie, but the State police did issue an alert over its release.
Police officials deployed in Lucknow headquarters told NewsClick that the movie shows actual speeches made by political leaders in the run up to the demolition of the Mughal-era mosque on December 6, 1992. This could enrage the public and lead to a law and order problem.
“Genuine concerns for the implication of the release of this movie on law and order remain also because the Central Board of Film Certification had refused to pass the film. The main reason given by the CBFC was that the movie could stoke communal passions because the subject of the temple-mosque dispute was provocative. So there are bound to be concerns about the release of the movie,” a senior police official said.
“The DGP office has asked all of us to be watchful. We have alerted all the districts about the movie,”said the official.
After the CBFC refused to pass the film, the producers approached the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal which cleared the movie for release. There was no word on the release of the film as yet, but the cinema owners of western UP have been asked to “be careful”.