Malayalam film Sexy Durga denied approval for MAMI screening; majoritarian move or legitimate concern?
In what seems to be an onslaught on freedom of expression, the Information and Broadcast ministry has denied any relief to filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Malayalam film Sexy Durga. The globally acclaimed film was scheduled to be screened at the Jio MAMI festival.
However, it has been denied exemption by the ministry, twice, for having a 'problematic name' that could "hurt religious sentiments". According to the government's directive, the filmmaker can now approach the Central Board of Film Certification to obtain a normal certificate and become eligible for screening at the film festival.
To be screened at the festival, films have to be exempted by the ministry. The makers need not get their work cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification. However, Sasidharan feels that the ministry is not using its power with wisdom.
The filmmaker assured Firstpost in a telephonic conversation, that the movie is based on a homeless girl named Durga. "The content of the film is not related to to the Goddess or religion at all," says Sasidharan.
"They haven't even seen the film and have just denied exemption based on the name," he reveals. He further adds that naming people after Gods and Goddesses is a common practice in India, therefore, the film provoking the ire of the ministry is incomprehensible.
Every year, hundreds of applicants seeking exemption approach the ministry, which is a pre-requisite for their films to be screened at the festival. According to the filmmaker, exemption is granted merely on the basis of the title and synopsis of the film.
For the country's apex body, which directly regulates information and broadcasting, jumping to conclusions just after taking a glance at the title and reading the synopsis, seems like a juvenile and majoritarian move.
Sasidharan terms the decision an unequivocal attack on freedom of expression. Film festivals in India are seen as free thinking spaces which are not bound by stringent censorship laws. As per the filmmaker, the ministry's interference is an attack on the already "limited space available to independent films."
Here's what the filmmaker has to say:
However, in what could be termed a little ray of hope, many are coming out in support of Sexy Durga in their own, significant ways. Petitions are being signed, posts are being shared and sides are clearly being taken. Although, Sasidharan has been receiving abusive messages from a few extremists, the situation seems to have diluted now, for the better.
The 19th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is going to take place from 12 October to 18 October.