The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Riot film too hot for censors

Mumbai, March 20: The censor board has shot down a film on Gujarat’s riot victims.

Aakrosh — in which riot victims address the camera recalling their nights of horror in the backdrop of a Gujarat still burning — has been declared unfit for public viewing by the board.

“The film depicts violence and reminds the people about (the) Gujarat riot last year. It shows the government and police in a bad light. The overall impact of the film is negative as it leads to communal hatred among the communities.... Hence the board has decided to refuse a certificate to the film,” says the board in a letter to the film’s makers.

Speaker after speaker in the 25-minute film, shot by Geeta Chawda in Naroda-Patia in Ahmedabad and several relief camps, breaks down before the camera, recalling how thousand-strong crowds went on a killing spree.

Women speak of how other women were tortured before being killed. The marauders raped women and girls before dousing them with diesel and setting them on fire. “Chhote chhote bachchon ko aag se jala diya (they set fire to children),” says a woman survivor.

Almost everyone says the police remained silent spectators. “Police ko sau sau phone kiye (we called the police a hundred times),” says a woman in a black veil.

“The police phone was always busy,” says a man.

“I can never return to where my home was,” says a youth who chokes as he speaks.

The film does not make any comment, but the images make a powerful statement against the powers that be. The censor board scrapped the film last week. On Sunday, there was a private screening to protest against the censors’ policies.

The People’s Media Initiative, the NGO behind the project, alleges that the board is politically motivated in favour of the saffron lobby. The censors are headed by Arvind Trivedi, who played Ravana in the television serial Ramayana.

Trivedi, who has been accused of having toed the Gujarat government line, says the film “does not meet the censor guidelines”. This is the second time in the recent past that the censor board has shot down or had reservations on films depicting communal politics.

Anand Patwardhan’s award-winning documentary film War and Peace has had a long battle with the censors over the past year. The film is a scathing comment on how fundamentalist forces in India and Pakistan are using communalism and the N-bomb to reap political benefits.

The board had wanted six cuts, then 21 cuts, then two cuts in the film, after which Patwardhan filed a case against it in the high court. Now the board wants 21 cuts again. The next hearing is on March 25.

Aakrosh, however, also has critics apart from the censors. It was criticised by a section of the audience for showing only the riot victims. They said the film, for this reason, could be branded as “pseudo-secularist reporting”.

Writer Shama Dalwai said the film needed to refer to the Godhra carnage and place it in context. “The film focuses on the violence, but does not say anything about the theory that justifies the violence,” she said.

But Ramesh Pimple of the People’s Media Initiative said he was aware that Aakrosh did not show the entire picture. “But what is shown is also reality,” he said. Chawda has appealed to the censors’ revision committee.

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