Rows And Rows Of Fences

November 28, 2011 at 9:15 PMNov (Activism, Cinema, Media, Music, Musings, Soliloquy)

Two Indian films have been dropped this year- 2011- at the International Film Festival of India, Goa. One being Gaurav Chhabra’s Inklab and the other being M.F. Hussain’s Through the Eyes of a Painter.

The first of the film- Inklab, was shortlisted by the Entertainment Society of Goa to be screened at IFFI-2011. But the Central Board for Film Certification had suggested nine cuts saying its contents were “anti-national” to which the director refused to budge. As a result the film was refused censor certificate.

The film shot in the Cinema-Verite style, to mean truthful cinema, which was influenced majorly by the Russian film maker Dziga Vertov, the film Inklab is about a PhD student who is preoccupied with thoughts about change, revolution and peace in political terms.

Through the conversation between the radical protagonist and his friend, who is video recording the conversations, the film touches on various issues that the society is affected by i.e. corruption, naxalism, nuclear power, social equality, GM food and also touches on RTI and student politics.

The problem for the censor board seems to have appeared in the scene where the protagonist is preparing non-lethal bomb in his kitchen. The protagonist, in the film, repeatedly mentions that the purpose of the bomb or rather explosion is to ‘awaken’ and stresses on the fact that he is not for violence. He explains that revolution means peace and not violence.

The film which reminds of the Bhagath Singh all through its narrative has been shot at the Dwarka Das Library in Chandigargh which is a restoration of the library where Bhagath Singh spent time studying Socialism. When the lady, interviewed in the end by the police, objects to the use of “Was” while referring to the police and says, “Even if he is… ever WAS, he will always remain IS” establishes that the protagonist is the continuation of the breath of Bhagath Singh. This gets further strengthened when the protagonist himself says, “Men die but not ideas.”

With this connection established can we call Bhagat Singh, “anti-national”? Will the censor board call Bhagat Singh “anti-national” as it has termed the film? At one point the friend of the protagonist, in Inklab, remarks the ideas and plans of a protagonist as “anti-national,” the protagonist says, “Corruption is anti-national… child abuse is anti-national… hunger is anti-national… poverty is anti-national.” The film speaks of all these and other “anti-national” elements and ends up being called “anti-national”!

“Cinema cannot be used as a means of national debate; it must conform to the ideas of establishment,” wrote Chidanand Dasgupta in his essay ‘The futility of film censorship’ and also said, “If hypocrisies could be put aside and Indian reality portrayed frankly on the Indian screen, not only would we have delectable views of the navels of Rajasthan and the breasts of Bastar State, the lean midriff of Andhra, the bare shoulders of Manipur, the leg contours of Maharashtra, and the bare backs of Gujarat; we would see a fearfully revealing scene of greed, violence, pettiness, indifference to suffering, cynicism, casteism, nepotism, falsehood, cruelty, the world’s most massive prostitution, bribery, jobbery and corruption- all of which the censorship seeks to hide behind the sanctimonious hypocrisy which is the hallmark of this country’s middle-class morals and a large part of its political and social leadership.”

Utpal Dutt rightly calls Censors as”political watchdogs of the ruling class.” Utpal Dutt is of the opinion that “any discussion on films in semi-colonial or newly independent countries must start from the illiteracy, poverty and cultural starvation of the masses. It seems blasphemous to engage in comfortable talk about aesthetics of cinema in a country where the majority starves.” But sadly when films are made in the semi-colonial and newly independent countries about these issues it gets into trouble. The trouble is not exactly because of speaking these issues in the new system but because of questioning the very new system which has come into existence.

“However angry or biting our criticism may be, confine to a cinema of social reform, a cinema that exposes social evils and suggests that some strong action is necessary to redeem the situation, but it has never questioned the democratic system itself. This is essentially a cinema that advocates action towards social change through democratic means,” opines Govind Nihalani and adds, “But whatever little efforts have been made in that direction have unfortunately not had the impact that this kind of cinema should have for the simple reason that these films, after having been made have had very little exposure, very little opportunity to be seen. However grand or however committed an effort might be the important thing for it is to make contact with the viewer.”

Inklab finally, went for a guerrilla screening on the 27th of November just outside the IFFI venue to be watched by a few people who stood with Inklab and for the freedom of speech and expression and as a protest against the censor board’s decision to refuse censor certificate to the film.

This year’s IFFI decided to pay its tribute to Chidanand Dasgupta by organizing a seminar in his memory. It also decided to pay respects to Mani Kaul, S. Ramachandra, Jagjit Singh, Samir Chanda, Shammi Kapoor and M.F. Hussain by screening films with their contribution.

The film made in the year 1967 by M.F. Hussain titled ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ scheduled to be screened in the Homage section of the festival on the 27th was dropped after threats from the right wing organization Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi.

Shankar Mohan, the director of IFFI, has said that the protestors have told him that a case regarding the film was pending in the court. He is reported also as saying, “We don’t want to do anything illegal, so we are taking legal opinion.”

This film which won The Golden Bear award at the 17th Berlin Film Festival, is an interesting film which looks at Rajasthan through the eyes of a painter and captures Rajasthan and the life of Rajasthan.

At once reminding of Alain Resnais’ film Guernica where the painting is shot into a film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ does the reverse of Guernica by making a film into a painting. While Resnais breaks the painting into shots Hussain weaves shots and paints them together through editing and turns the film into a painting.

The film celebrating Rajasthan has nothing remotely controversial in it and to the best of my knowledge there is no case against the film. This protest by the HJS is a continuation of the hate campaign against M.F. Hussain continued, sadly, even after his death. Sadder than the hate campaign is the way IFFI has bowed and dropped the screening of an interesting film which has already made a mark in the international circles. IFFI which wanted to pay its respects to Hussain has ended up disrespecting him and dishonoring him while it should have honored him.

International Film Festival of India was first organized in the year 1952, almost 60 years ago. The second was held in the year 1961 and was followed by others at shorter intervals and became an annual event in the 1970s and in the year 2004 the venue of IFFI got frozen to Goa.

“Coupled with the educational role played by the film societies, this initiative played a decisive role in making both the public and professionals aware of the medium. Exposure to the major movements and innovations taking place in world cinema was a major step,” wrote Yves Thoraval who also opined that, “The International Film Festival is an invaluable occasion for the exchange of ideas between the different professionals of the audio-visual medium…”

But the purpose of a film festival is not just restricted to make people “aware of the medium” and create an occasion “for the exchange of ideas between different professionals.” The official website of the festival which announces that the founding principles of the festival “centre on discovery, promotion and support of filmmaking of all genres – thus bringing together the diversity of the forms, aesthetics and contents,” states that the festival “aims to nurture, encourage and inspire Indian cinema and introduce it to the world outside as well as the many audiences that coexist in this vast and diverse country.”

This year’s IFFI and the dropping of two films- one which experimented with the medium itself and not just its content making way for discussing of ideas and another film which is different in its form and aesthetics- has failed the principles for which it stands and the aim that it claims to have for itself.


  1. RR said,

    well analysed the sad state of affairs at IFFI-42.
    Controversy after controversy dogs the festival.

  2. Gaurav Chhabra 'karma' said,

    I am touched by in-depth review of the writer of this blog.
    You have connected really well with the very core of the film InkLab and its alternate style and cinematic language.
    I so very much agree that..a film fest.. that too of International level..should atelast posses balls to stand by its selections…which unfortunately the fest has grossly failed at. It shows govt. funded fests can act as filter to the oppressed voices.
    Thanks a lot ,
    Peace n joy,

    Dr Gaurav Chhabra
    Director, Inklab

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