It's not hard to guess why the Union ministry of Information & Broadcasting denied screening certificates to three movies that were scheduled to be shown at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala, which begins from 16 June.
Also known as Kamaluddin, Kamal is the chairman of festival organiser Kerala State Chalachitra Academy and no stranger to trouble. Earlier this year, he got into a controversy when he protested against the police action taken on some men and women who hadn't stand up during the national anthem at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). The Left-leaning director and three-time national award winner was trolled by members of the sangh parivar for his Muslim identity, which upset him at the time.
In this case, too, judging by the themes of the movies that haven't made it to the short film festival, Kamal seems to have hit the bull's eye about why these were denied permission.
Ordinarily, films screened at festivals don't need certificates from the I&B ministry. Only those which don't have certificates from the censor board need to be passed through the government. Of the 200 movies that were sent to the ministry for censor exemption, only three couldn't pass muster with the Centre.
The Unbearable Being of Lightness (45 minutes), made by Ramachandra PN, is based on the life and death of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad University who committed suicide last year, after allegedly facing discrimination on the basis of his lower caste.
The Union government was caught in a controversy stretching over months for its handling of this tragic incident. From denying Vemula's avowed Dalit origins to disowning moral responsibility for his death, the Narendra Modi administration didn't show itself up in a fair light to the minorities over this incident.
In The Shade of Fallen Chinar is the second movie to be left out of the festival. Directed by Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian, this 16-minute-long documentary depicts the life of ordinary Kashmiris before the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen leader, last year.
The incident triggered off months of mayhem in the Valley that continues to this day, with the government desperately using every means within its power—from coercion to violence to human shields to the Internet ban—to bring the situation under control.
Finally, the last applicant that didn't make the cut is March, March, March, based on the students' agitation that erupted at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi last year.
Led by the fiery student leader Kanhaiya Kumar and a number of members of the faculty, these protests spanned months and led to a nationwide debate on freedom of expression and the meaning of patriotism. In that instance, too, the Centre used various tactics to suppress the protestors. From invoking the sedition law against the students raising slogans to calling anyone with anti-establishment views an 'anti-national', it tried to cover up the burning issues of the day.
Given their sensitive themes, it's no one's guess why the ministry wouldn't want these three movies to be shown at a public festival in a state where the ruling party at the Centre is desperately struggling to get a foothold in the political landscape.
Kerala is already rebelling against the Central government's nationwide edict banning the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter—an order that it, along with states like West Bengal and Nagaland, see as amounting to beef ban. To allow the screening of three movies that severely criticise and question the Centre's action in three major incidents that had the country in a tizzy would not do it any service. But it's a double-edged sword too. For refusing permission to screen the movies will only serve to affirm the Centre's reputation as a draconian government.
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