Protests by RSS student wing ABVP have prompted Ravenshaw University in Cuttack to drop from its ongoing film festival two documentaries, one of them on Kabir and his views about Ram and the other on samesex marriage.
The film festival was supposed to be held from Thursday till Saturday. But after the ABVP protested against Had-Anhad (Bounded-Boundless) by Shabnam Virmani and Gay India Matrimony by Debalina Majumder, the campus authorities initially decided to scrap the event altogether, students said.
A nearly six-hour dharna by students later, the university administration relented and the film festival began on Friday, but without the two films that had raised the ABVP’s hackles.
Hrudaynath Tarai, an independent nominated member of the university cultural council that is organising the film festival, termed the authorities’ decision to drop Had-Anhad and Gay India Matrimony as an attack on the freedom of expression.
“The film festival is being organised to educate people and students on various aspects of films and human emotions. The films that have been dropped have already been seen by lakhs of people. What was wrong in screening them?” he said.
Sankalp Kumar Jena, a third-year student, told The Telegraph: “The festival was about to start on Thursday when some students objected to the two films. As they demanded cancellation of the film festival, the vice-chancellor decided to stop screenings for the day and said the entire film festival would be scrapped.
“We sat on a dharna for nearly six hours, and the authorities agreed to go ahead with the event. Today, two films were screened — Pada, a Malayalam-language political-social thriller directed by Kamal K.M., and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali.”
The films expected to be screened on Saturday are the other two films of the Apu Trilogy (Aparajito and Apur Sansar), two more Ray films — Charulata and Ganashatru — as well as In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, Ghar Ka Patta and the Odia film Whose Dreams, Whose City?
Eminent film critic Samarendra Rout said: “At the film festival, people get to see parallel cinema, which holds a mirror to society – films that are good but may have failed to do well commercially in the halls.
“We should not succumb to moral policing. The university authorities should rise to the occasion and allow all the (selected) movies to be screened. We should not let the spirit of the film festival die.”
University registrar Kanhu Charan Mallick told this newspaper: “The film festival is going on smoothly. As some students objected to two films, we did not screen them today. We don’t want any kind of disturbance. The students also agreed to our request.”
Asked whether the university’s decision did not mark a capitulation to pressure tactics from a particular group, Mallick said: “In the university, many kinds of students study. We have to take everyone along with us.”
ABVP state vice-president Sanjay Mohanty said: “Students aligned with our ideology approached the authorities with a request not to screen films that are detrimental to our culture and moral values. No one indulged in any violence. We will continue to oppose films that are against our culture.”
A senior professor said: “The film festival began today with a presentation by Pablo Bartholomew on his photographic journey with Satyajit Ray. He introduced the students to several off-screen moments he had shared with Ray while the latter was at work on the sets. He also answered questions from students and faculty about Ray’s works.
“Then there was the screening of the Malayalam movie, Pada, about Adivasi rights. It was followed by the screening of Pather Panchali, which played to a full auditorium. The session ended with the head of the department of film studies, Jadavpur University, Professor Mainak Biswas, delivering a lecture on Ray.”