Dear Prime Minister,
I am a humble film maker living on the southern tip of this large country that you govern. Like ninety percent of the people in this great country, I too was born in an economically weak family. Though there were no godfathers to give a helping hand, based on my own willpower, I managed to get a degree in Law. Because my aim in life was not financial gains, I was devoted to my ambition since my young days to be an Art film maker. I began making inexpensive films because I didn’t have the money to make big budget films. In 2013, my first feature film, which was made with crowd funding, bagged the Kerala State Award for Best Director. My second film in 2014 bagged the Kerala State Award for Best film. Third film in 2017 bagged the prestigious Tiger Ward for Best Film in the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Let me bring it to your notice that this was the first time an Indian film was getting this prestigious award in Rotterdam. Apart from Rotterdam, this film won three other Best Film awards in Geneva, Mexico and Armenia. I don’t know if we have many other films bagging this much of topmost awards in International Film Festivals. Though it brought much fame for India abroad, it was met with much disregard and suppression in India itself. This film could have been made a strong mark in the coming National Film Awards and be a contender for the awards. But, most painfully and with much resentment, I had to take a decision not to send my film to the National Film Awards. You may not know the circumstances that led to my decision. I don’t even know whether you will get to read this letter. But, I am writing this only in the belief that it is my duty as a citizen who loves the democratic set up and plurality of existence in this country to proclaim this aloud.
The reason why I am not sending this film to compete for the most coveted film award for an Indian film is that I am sure, in the light of personal experiences, that a judicious decision will not be taken in the case of my film. Permission was repeatedly not granted for showing this film in the Mumbai International Film Festival. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry under your Government had denied permission quoting the reason that the title of my film ‘Sexy Durga’ will hurt religious sentiments. My objective in the film was to raise the question of why a woman worshipped as Mother, Devi and the omnipotent Durga was treated on the streets as a sexual object by the male population of India, even if her name was Durga,. Though I wrote to the Information and Broadcasting Minister clarifying that the film is not about Devi Durga or that the film contains nothing to hurt the religious sentiments of anyone, and though around 2000 people had endorsed this letter, the Ministry did not back out from its standpoint against the film. The direction to me was to get the Censor certificate.
When I approached the Censor Board, they said the title Sexy Durga was the only issue and there was no need for other changes. Because I wanted Indians to see a film portraying an Indian reality, I changed the title to ‘S Durga’ and got a U/A certificate from the Censor Board. But, yet, the Ministry persists with its antagonistic attitude. In the recently concluded Goa Film Festival, the Jury had unanimously selected this film to be shown, but the Ministry intervened and stopped the film being shown. It even led to the Jury Chairman and a few members resigning. Then, I approached the High Court of Kerala demanding justice and obtained a judgment in my favour. The attitude of the Ministry did not relax even then. It went for an appeal before the Division Bench. But, the Division Bench also upheld that my film should be exhibited. But, what the Ministry did was to illegally induct three new members to the Jury and make them give a wholly irrelevant complaint to the Censor Board and thus get the Censor Certificate suspended. Through this drama enacted hours before the conclusion of the International Film Festival at Goa, the Ministry succeeded in keeping my film out of this prestigious Film Festival of India.
I approached the Hon’ble Kerala High Court again against the action of the Censor Board to suspend the Censor Certificate and obtained an order to restore the Certificate. It is now eligible for submission to the National Film Awards. But, I did not submit it because I have no hope that I will get a judicious decision from a Ministry that had taken an antagonistic stand against my film and had challenged me in court as if I am an alien. Even you may agree with my stand if you examine these facts closely.
I have heard you speak at many forums that you are a person who grew up experiencing all the travails of an ordinary citizen. I too have grown up through such, if not lower, circumstances. Just because I make films, please don’t misunderstand that I am a big film maker. The total expenditure on my films may, perhaps, not match the amount spent by the Ministry in courts to block my film.
Do you feel that State machinery should behave in this way with an artist who is a common citizen of this country? I do not know whether you are aware of the growing intolerance towards arts and independent thoughts, not only against my film, in this country? A mob mentality that approach with prejudice and riot against films, books, different food habits etc is on the rise in the country. Is it without your knowledge that the various organs of the Government are taking an encouraging attitude towards such violent mobs and childish outbursts, without confronting them legally? Or, is it that all such inappropriate activities have your silent consent?
Instead of protecting the artists and thinkers who advance different notions and discussion points, the Government under you always go to court with arguments supporting the outcries from mobs. Is this the great Indian civilization that you and your political party uphold? In a country like ours where all kinds of civilizations, ideas and religious beliefs that co-exist, unlike in no other country, do you think any independent thought can exist with unanimous consent?
There was a large population in this country who believed that practices like human and animal sacrifice, child marriage and Sati were their rights. Those mobs had always attacked those who talked or worked against their traditions. But, the people who governed in those days were ones protected the thinkers and artists from such attacks and thus built India as the India that we have inherited. Let me remind you with pain that the Government under your leadership now takes a stand that brandishes its sword against all independent thoughts. It will only help in transforming this country from an open minded society to a society that considers all independent thinkers as adversaries and subject them to attack.
I know nothing will happen to the National Film Awards just because I did not submit my film. But, if a citizen feels insecure that he cannot get justice from a Ministry that is bound to perform constitutionally, it has dangerous portents. You may not consider the International Film Festival or the National Film Awards so important as to come to your attention. But, I believe that if the very institutions that are meant to protect independent expressions of thoughts and freedom of opinion take a stand favourable to mob mentality, it is an extremely dangerous and serious situation. My non-submission may be a great relief to the Ministry. I don’t have the time to spend on court cases and skirmishes with the State. But, I am bringing all this to your kind attention only so that I should not be blamed for not telling you about the alarming situation that exists in this country.
Sir, Finally my film, after going through a lot of unwanted problems and struggles is in theatres now. Thousands of people so far watched the film with peace, hundreds of reviews written and many debates and discussions everywhere. There is not even a single incident of breaking law-and-order and religious sentiments, which were the primary arguments of your ministry to block the film. When the film is running in theatres peacefully, it is proven that all those allegations were baseless.
Sir, as a citizen of this democratic country, I really wish to know, what was the reason behind all the atrocities against my film from your Government. But sadly I know that, even you will not have any answer for that..
I stop in the hope that this beautiful country that conjoins many differences of opinion and cultural divisions lives for long.
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
A citizen of India