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Storm over Midnight stalls second show

- No clampdown, claims deepa

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 11: Tension ran high in the Congress in Kerala a day after Midnight’s Children had its Indian premiere at the International Film Festival here, with party leaders wondering how a film critical of Indira Gandhi had made the event.

A repeat show of the Deepa Mehta film based on Salman Rushdie’s novel was not held today, with the director saying the distributor wanted only one screening but rumour mills suggesting a clampdown by the ruling Congress.

Midnight’s Children is an anti-India film. What is the intention in portraying kids born at the time of Independence in 1947 as confused? The film also portrays history in a skewed manner by suggesting that Emergency was imposed on the advice of astrologers when the truth was there was no other way to stop the unruly uprising of Jayaprakash Narayan and followers.

“I personally feel it’s a foreign-funded attempt to tarnish India’s image…. It is unfortunate that Deepa Mehta has fallen prey to it,” thundered Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee executive member and former minister Pandalam Sudhakaran.

Sudhakaran, however, said the party was not in favour of banning the film.

“This is not China where even the Internet is censored. The Congress is not against freedom of expression. Let everyone see the film and evaluate. My complaint is against the distortion of history,” he said.

Asked if the onus was on film minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar, who was in the audience yesterday with Mehta, Sudhakaran said no one knew about the content of the film till it was shown.

But he added: “Unlike the usual practice of selecting from a list of submitted films, Midnight’s Children was invited, being a work by a leading director like Mehta. And it definitely needs to be probed what was the intention of those who extended the invite.”

The film minister was unavailable for comment, but official sources said he felt there was no politics in the film.

Kumar’s father R. Balakrishna Pillai, a former Congress stalwart, was unforgiving too. “I don’t agree with the Emergency. But Indira Gandhi was a leader who has done so many good things for the country…. The film is blatantly anti-India and I cannot agree with those trying to justify screening it in a state like Kerala,” Pillai told The Telegraph.

Pillai and his son are estranged.

At an interactive session in the afternoon, Mehta dismissed reports that a second screening was cancelled today because the Congress flexed its muscle.

“There is no ban on the movie. The repeat show could not be done because PVR pictures, who are the distributors, wanted only one screening,” Mehta said. “I can show you an email I got from PVR three days ago saying that ‘we really do not think that we should have a second screening because we would like to save our audience for the film’s release’. It is something as boring and as simple as commerce,” she said.

To a query why this was not announced earlier, the festival’s artistic director Beena Paul Venugopal said: “This was announced… many days ago that PVR had decided that they did not want it (second screening). By then our schedule had gone in to print unfortunately, that’s why we could not stop the schedule. Therefore it was announced at various forums that there would be only one screening. We are sorry if the media did not get the information.”