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Filmmakers cry foul over censor swipe at shorts

Mumbai, July 21: Independent filmmakers, beware. A new censorship regime has started.

In a move that is being seen as “a new and dangerous trend”, the Centre wants filmmakers to get their shorts cleared from the censors for screening at the Mumbai International Film Festival to be held in February next year.

This is the first festival in the country at which documentary films will need a censor certificate. Many also feel this could be the first time in history censorship will be enforced at a documentary festival.

The forms for the festival, issued by the Film Division, mention that this applies only to Indian filmmakers. Filmmakers from abroad need not take their shorts through the censors’ scissors.

Documentary filmmakers across the country see this as a bid to stifle free thought. “This is ridiculous and discriminatory. It’s another dangerous attempt to control the mind,” says filmmaker Bishakha Datta.

“The fact that only Indians need to go through the censors also makes the game transparent.”

The fingers point at the Sangh parivar. “No short festival in the world has this rule,” says Sanjit Narwekar, documentary filmmaker and spokesperson for the Indian Documentary Producers’ Association.

Despite being linked to the association, a co-host of the festival, he says the rule violates international norms.

“It is just preposterous,” says film writer S.V. Raman in Calcutta. “It is a new and dangerous trend, following Anand Patwardhan’s film War and Peace.”

The government explanation is that the rule only extends the law of the land. “All feature films to be shown at festivals need to be taken through the censors. The information and broadcasting ministry is only extending this to short films,” says the director of Films Division, R. Babu.

But the film community is unanimous that the move comes after Patwardhan’s War and Peace, which has become a landmark. It won the top award at the last Mumbai festival held in 2001, and later became a huge embarrassment for the government with its bold statement against communalism.

The film, after a war of attrition with the censors and other authorities — it was also dropped without explanation from the international film festival in Calcutta — was finally passed by Bombay High Court. But Patwardhan and his colleagues feel this rule has been introduced as the government doesn’t want to take a similar chance with any other film.

“It started with my film,” says Patwardhan. “But we will fight it hard.”

Delhi-based Sanjay Kak, who has made an award-winning film on Narmada, says he and his colleagues will issue a stern protest against the rule. They have not decided on any plan of action, but they may move court.

But this is only the culmination of a trend, say filmmakers. “Censorship has been growing of late,” says filmmaker Amrit Gangar, a view his colleagues are entirely in agreement with.

Following War and Peace, two films by Ramesh Pimple on Gujarat, which portray the BJP-ruled state government in poor light, were censored.

Bishakha Datta is apprehensive that her own film In the Flesh, a study of three persons in prostitution, may not make it to the festival because it has been stuck at the censors for a year. She says another filmmaker from Mumbai had his film on sexuality rejected at a digital film festival in Delhi as the censors had not cleared it.

“It is becoming harder and harder,” says Datta.

The difficulty is increasing in another way. Previously, the showing of a short was never an issue. No forum objected, or asked too many questions when it came to a screening. But now, after the trouble with War and Peace, almost all theatres and film centres demand to see a censor certificate.

“Places like Chavan Centre, where it was so easy to organise a screening, demand a censor clearance now,” says Narwekar.

Datta says she feels scared to screen her film privately, too, because she doesn’t know when the moral police will clamp down. “The censor guidelines mention ‘exhibition’. I don’t know whether that also includes private screenings.”

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