Filmmakers Allege Assault on Freedom of Expression After CBFC Demands 'Meaningless' Cuts

"Such cuts are extremely restrictive and take away the director’s independence to explore his subject."

A still from Miryavar Kahi Mahine.

Mumbai: As bizarre it may be, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) thinks the best way to deal with the complexities of caste realities in this country is to not allow its mention in films. It also believes showing these realities or even uttering the name of any caste identities is “contemptuous” of the groups mentioned in the film. The nine cuts suggested to the two-time National Film Award-winning director Renu Savant’s film Miryavar Kahi Mahine is akin to this ostrich-like behaviour. The censor board upon viewing Savant’s ethnographic study of her village in Konkan region of Maharashtra has asked her to remove every mention of caste from her film to get clearance.

The film, shot over several months in 2015 in Savant’s village Mirya in Ratnagiri district, has mentions of several caste groups and religions like Maratha, Bhandari, Brahman, Mahar, Muslim and Buddhist. Savant, a Film and Telivision Institue of India graduate says that through her political film, she has tried to capture the interactions of power across caste, class and gender lines that played out while she was in the village. “These are social realities of any Indian village. In my village, too, people from across caste lines coexist and their interactions happen as per their positioning in the graded society. My film has tried to capture this,” Savant says. But the examining committee of the board upon viewing the film has invoked Section 2 (XIII) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 while asking her to remove caste mentions from the film. The section states, “The CBFC shall ensure that visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented.”

A still from Miryavar Kahi Mahine

Savant says these excisions take away the entire perspective of her film. She cited an example of one elderly Buddhist woman who speaks from her memory about the historical event of mass conversion of Dalits led by Babasaheb Ambedkar in Maharashtra in 1956. “She is seen recalling the conversion and then says how if not for Babasaheb, the Mahars would have remained just Mahars and never had led a dignified life. How can I possibly capture this reality of her life by mindlessly deleting the crucial word Mahar here?” Savant demanded. In 2014, Savant was awarded the ‘Early Career Fellowship’ by the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai to make this film.

Renu Savant

This is not all, the board has also asked Savant to snip a section where the villagers discuss an old but popular folklore from the village. As the film progresses, a bunch of villagers are seen discussing an old incident of sati in the village. “To this, the board either wants me to remove the entire dialogue or call my film a piece of fiction,” Savant told The Wire.

Whether true or not, the story that the village in the past century practiced sati and one woman had jumped into the pyre after her husband’s death is quite popular and is largely believed by everyone in the village. “Calling the film a work of fiction is completely upsetting the premise of a documentary, which shows actuality. Such films represent the existing conditions in a society and thus are an important contribution to the understanding of society,” Savant feels. Her film has already won the John Abraham National Award for Best Documentary at a film festival in Kerala in October 2017.

Savant’s case, however, is not a one-off. Another Kolkata-based filmmaker Anirban Datta ran in to similar trouble with the censor board over his film Kalikshetra. Datta’s film traces the known and unknown local history of the area where the city of Kolkata is situated. “Kolkata has a deeply political history. The Partition history from the 1940’s and the Naxal movement from the 60’s shape the socio-political reality of this city. Some stories might be documented, some are only oral,” Datta told The Wire. The board has suggested five cuts to Datta’s film. The censor board, in its response letter signed by the board’s regional officer Nitesh Jha, indicates that mention of CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) or discussing the Partition history “threatens the sovereignty and integrity of India”.

In recent years, several directors have been miffed with the board’s arbitrary decisions to chop off scenes from their films. “These cuts are mostly mindless and the board tries to tone police directors with political views. Such cuts are extremely restrictive and takes away the director’s independence to explore his subject,” Datta feels.

Both Savant and Datta have now decided to approach the review committee against the examining committee’s decision. “The board guidelines are very liberal and does not ask for any political censorship. The committee has wrongly interpreted the rules and sought these cuts. We will be appealing this before the review committee,” Datta said.

Read Comments