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‘Backdoor censorship’ — filmmakers say Mumbai fest rejected movies critical of Modi govt

Anand Patwardhan, Pankaj Rishi and others accused the information and broadcasting ministry of practising absolute control in the selection process.

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New Delhi: Filmmakers Anand Patwardhan and Pankaj Rishi, among others, have accused the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of not screening their films at the 16th edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival because they were critical of the Modi government.

The week-long Mumbai International Film Festival 2020 started at Nehru Centre Auditorium in Worli Tuesday. The film festival is organised by the Films Division, which is under the information and broadcasting ministry.

Addressing a press conference Tuesday, Patwardhan and Rishi alleged that “backdoor censorship” was practised in the selection of films for the festival and “absolute control” was exercised over the process from Delhi.

The directors also accused Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar of setting up a “sanskaari (civilised) panel”, which allegedly filtered out the films critical of the government.

Patwardhan said, “If you look at their catalogue, you can tell if you find a single film which is critical of the government… Any film which has been slightly critical has been left out.”

According to “inside information”, he added, even Films Division was not involved in forming the selection committee. “It was set by the I&B ministry, that is Javadekar himself, and that selection panel was brought to Mumbai and kept in a hotel for one month. Their (the government’s) chosen people did the selection.”

He further explained that regional offices of the Film Division would in the past select the films in the first round, which would then come to Mumbai for approval by the central body. However, the whole procedure was changed this time.

Patwardhan is one of the most respected documentary filmmakers in India and has made various films on controversial subjects — including Ram ke Naam on the Babri Masjid demolition, Jai Bhim Comrade that explored the lives of Dalit people in Mumbai and War and Peace on the rise of India’s relation with jingoism and the military.

Also read: RSS-backed body plans film festival in Ahmedabad to promote Indianness in cinema

Films left out

Pankaj Rishi Kumar’s film Janani’s Juliet, Anand Patwardhan’s Reason/Vivek, Deepti Gupta’s Shut Up Sona were some of the prominent films that were not selected for screening.

Kumar’s film, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, takes a deep dive into caste politics. Janani’s Juliet won the Best Long Documentary prize at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in 2019 (IDSFFK).

Patwardhan’s Reason/Vivek, on the other hand, sheds light on the erosion of the ideals of secular democracy in India. This film won the Best Feature Documentary award at the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA).

Shut Up Sona is based on singer Sona Mohapatra’s fight against sexual harassment. Directed by Deepti Gupta, this film was in the official line-up of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR).

Other films like Our Gauri by Pradeep K.P. that followed the trajectory of late Gauri Lankesh and her struggle against Right-wing forces, and Sunil Kumar’s Ammi on the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb Ahmed were also not selected for screening.

Filmmakers withdraw court case 

Patwardhan and Kumar had filed a case against the rejection of their films in the Bombay High Court. However, the case was withdrawn by them Monday because they felt the judgment would be based on the “technicalities” of the case.

Patwardhan argued that they withdrew the case because it seemed like a “lost cause”.

Also read: Lights, camera and action: How Modi govt relies on drama to survive just like Bollywood films


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