Apurva Asrani quits IFFI 2017 jury: S Durga, Nude were cleared by CBFC, so what's the issue?

Gautam Chintamani

Nov,15 2017 13:13 36 IST

To say that the 2017 edition of the International Film Festival of India’s (IFFI) has gotten off to a rocky start would be an understatement.

If the decision of the Indian Panorama jury chief, Sujoy Ghosh, to quit ostensibly as a mark of protest to the manner in which the Information & Broadcasting Ministry dropped two films from the line up was bad enough, the news of another jury member, Apurva Asrani stepping down is bound to add to the woes.

Apurva Asrani. Image from Twitter/Apurvaasrani

Apurva Asrani. Image from Twitter/Apurvaasrani

The jury selected the two films in question - Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga and Ravi Jadhav’s Nude – as a part of 26 feature and 16 non-feature films for the Indian Panorama but they were mysterious dropped from the Ministry’s final list. To make matters worse for the organisers, Sasidharan has petitioned the Kerala High Court to urge the ministry to undo the “arbitrary, illegal and unjust” action and include his film in the festival, which opens November 20.

Perhaps this is the first instance where a jury head has quit IFFI just days before the festival that for all intent is seen as the country’s premier film festival.

Reacting to Ghosh’s decision, the veteran filmmaker said that “jury or its chairman will have to resign” if the organisers disagree with the constituted jury’s choice.

While Ghosh confirmed his decision to quit he never cited any specific reason but Asrani, who followed suit, said that he stood with the chairman of the jury. He said that his ‘conscience’ wouldn’t allow him to participate in the festivities in Goa and also added that there might be some developments.

These events appear to be in stark contrast with the manner in which the I&B Ministry has been functioning since Smriti Z. Irani took over the reins. Following her appointment earlier in July this year, Irani, in the manner of speaking, set out to correct some glaring wrongs committed by the ministry in the past.

Her decision to it appoint Anupam Kher as the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) head or Prasoon Joshi as the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) were seen as steps in the right direction. This year’s IFFI was to be the first major event under Irani and had garnered great support from within the industry. But the mysterious, and even the unprecedented manner in which two critically acclaimed films were dropped at the eleventh hour goes against the very spirit the minister seemed to instill within the system.

A poster for S Durga. Image from Facebook/@sexydurgamovie

A poster for S Durga. Image from Facebook/@sexydurgamovie

One of the films, S Durga was in fact, even chosen to be the opening film but in a statement to a newspaper jury member Rahul Rawail said that he was asked by an NFDC representative to suggest a replacement to open the festival in place of S Durga and he said Pihu, which is now the opening film. Both S Durga and Nude have been critically acclaimed and the decision to unceremoniously drop them from IFFI has been criticised by many.

Standing by Jadhav’s Nude that explores the trials of a woman working as a nude model for artists to earn her livelihood, Renuka Shahane strongly condemned the shocking development and questioned if films and filmmakers were expected to endure “this kind of suffocation.”

Even S Durga was earlier denied screening permission at the 19th Mumbai Film Festival but following CBFC’s suggestion of a title change, it was initially called ‘Sexy Durga’ the film was screened without any cuts. The film is about Durga, a north Indian migrant, who is on the run with a Keralite youth named Kabeer and ‘encounters a cross section of the society’ through the course of a single night.

The film’s narrative is intercut with a ritual art form 'Garudan Thookkam’, where according to legend goddess Kali remained insatiable even after slaying Darika and Lord Vishnu sent Garuda to Kali to quench her thirst. The film holds the distinction of being the only Indian film to win the Hivos Tiger Award in the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017 and has also won the Best International Feature Film award in the Guanajuato International Film Festival, Mexico.

Could there be foul play at work here? Or could this be a case of the classic ‘babu’ mischief where many things get lost in transit? After all, both the films were duly cleared by the CBFC and have also had public screenings in India.

Needless to say, this “bureaucratic shilly-shallying” — a term Satyajit Ray used to describe the government’s process of dealing with films when it came to film festivals — needs to be laid to rest. It behooves I&B Ministry to not only set things right but also take corrective measures to get IFFI out of an unneeded quagmire.