Didn’t we all rejoice when dear Pahlaj Nihalani was asked to step down from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)? We looked to a brighter future where films would face less ridiculous scrutiny. But our happiness is short-lived. A Malayalam film titled Sexy Durga is struggling to be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) to be held in October this year. According to a report, there’s fear that the movie will hurt Hindu religious sentiments.
Sexy Durga is directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan and follows the story of Durga, a north Indian migrant and a Keralite youth named Kabeer running away at midnight. According to the trailer, the hapless Durga encounters a cross section of society through the rest of the night and provides social commentary about the obstacles she faces. It has won accolades across film festivals in Spain, the Netherlands and Russia.
A movie entry at a film festival does not fall under the jurisdiction of the CBFC for approval, but under the Information Broadcast (I&B) Ministry’s. That the title of the movie appears to relate the Hindu goddess Durga with sexuality is the prime concern for the Ministry, as it fears it will hurt religious sentiments. But according to the trailer and the synopsis of the movie, the Durga in the title refers to the character Durga in the film and not the Hindu goddess. Even this concern is hypocritical considering we live in country where every other girl child is named after a goddess. But of course, even the slightest suggestion that a woman might want to sexually express herself is cause for furore, right?
Sasidharan has filed a petition with the Ministry to clear the movie for screening. Moreover, unlike a lot of movies screened at festivals, Sexy Durga is not funded by any governmental organisation.
Film festivals are safe spaces for art house and experimental cinema with minimum budgets and strong content. Or at least, that’s what we hoped they would be. Since films screened at festivals only have a selective audience, they do not require mass certification from the CBFC, which is a relief, for the likes of Nihalani would reject any “female-centric”, content-driven movie in a blink of an eye.
But it looks like the Ministry is following Nihalani’s lead. This isn’t the first time a movie has been rejected by the I&B Ministry for screening. Earlier this year, a documentary on Rohit Vemula’s suicide, another on the conflict in Kashmir and a third on JNU protests were denied screening time at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), according to a report. It only proves that the Ministry’s attitude towards Sexy Durga and the three documentaries is setting a dangerous precedent for the freedom of creative expression in India.
You can watch the trailer here:
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