Film-maker Leslee Udwin, Director of the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, speaks during a press conference.
Last week, the Indian government banned the screening of the documentary India’s Daughter. The maker, Leslee Udwin, as part of the film, included an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the alleged rapists in the horrific December 12 gang rape. The government found it “highly derogatory and an affront to the dignity of women” and issued a restraining order that disallowed the telecast of the documentary on any platform or medium.
While this ban has created a furore among supporters of free speech, documentary filmmakers say that ban on content that goes against state’s interest is an old and common practice in the country. “Almost all my documentaries have faced trouble, under various governments,” says Anand Patwardhan, who has been making documentary films for 40 years. His War and Peace (2002), which tracks the journey of peace activism in the face of war and militarism, won the National Award. However, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) called for a complete ban on the film, citing “law and order” as the issue.
While Patwardhan’s case is among the most discussed — the maker has a separate tab titled ‘censorship’ on his website that details the interference that his films have faced — gagging on part of the state was also experienced by Satyajit Ray. His documentary Sikkim (1971), commissioned by the then-king of Sikkim, was banned by the Indian government when it merged with the country as a state in 1975. The merger caused a lot of turmoil and since the documentary had a few shots that showed the poor conditions in the region, the government thought it might not go down well with the people of Sikkim.
There have been numerous such instances, especially political pieces where the content is perceived to threaten the interests of the government. Take for example Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution (2003) that showed the Gujarat riots as an anti-Muslim pogrom. As in the case of War and Peace, Sharma’s film too was banned by the CBFC and cleared only in 2004. Kashmir remains an especially sensitive issue, with Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi, Ashwin Kumar’s Inshallah Football and many such films having been stuck with the censors for months.
While a country-wide ban called by the state, as in the case of India’s Daughter, is not a regular occurrence, CBFC is the most common tool to execute a clampdown on the documentary filmmakers’ freedom of speech. “CBFC needs to be merely a certification agency while an independent institution on the lines of Press Council of India should be set up to address the grievances that CBFC members have with any film. This institution needs to be headed by people who understand law, maybe a retired judge, journalists, social scientists and others who are qualified to understand the subject,” says Sharma.
In cases where CBFC has stopped a film, the judiciary has usually ruled in the makers’ favour. Kak, thus believes, that the legal discourse is an important battle that brings the subject of censorship into public discourse, as it has now, with India’s Daughter. “We cannot wait for the establishment to give us our right to free speech. We must defend it in multiple ways,” says Kak, suggesting that it is important for documentary filmmakers to find alternative means for distribution.
However, Patwardhan says that corporate censorship is a greater but invisible form of censorship. Pointing out that India’s Daughter was a happy exception in this case, with NDTV having planned to air it, he says, “I can fight the court and get my film cleared, but where then do I show the film? The entire corporate media doesn’t allow space for programming of politically important issues, TV won’t touch it and cinema halls will of course not take the risk either. Festivals, the only space we have, have a limited reach, so I end up being my own projectionist.”
The internet, in such cases, is emerging as a strong alternative. Posted on YouTube, India’s Daughter had already received over 1.5 lakh views before being taken down. The number doesn’t include views on other video-sharing websites. However, Sharma believes that in such cases, public support is crucial. He cites the example of the piracy campaign he ran in order to ensure Final Solution reached its audience despite a ban. “I encouraged people to make copies of the film and distribute — whoever created and distributed five CD copies received a free copy from me. I allowed people to hold screenings without my permission but closely held the international distribution rights, which helped me raise money to fund my piracy campaign,” says Sharma.
Source:: Indian Express