Documentary on Modi’s Banaras Election Was All Too Real for Censor Board

A still from the teaser of "Dance for Democracy-Battle for Benares" by Kamal Swaroop

A still from the teaser of “Dance for Democracy-Battle for Benares” by Kamal Swaroop

Political rhetoric and name calling in the heat of a election campaign goes unnoticed, but looks “horrifying” when seen later. When Kamal Swaroop presented his film Dance of Democracy-Battle for Banaras based on the Narendra Modi-Arvind Kejriwal electoral fight in May 2014, to the Central Board of Film Certification, they rejected it out of hand. The Board found the comments made by candidates about their rivals during the run up to the elections too hot to handle. They simply refuse to pass the film, saying that even cutting the film was not possible.

“All the candidates were making wild statements and allegations—Phrases like Mukhota, 56-inch-chest, corrupt and many more in that vein, were thrown around liberally. Today when we see all that, it looks stupid and childish but the fact is that these comments were made and shown then on television. I just recorded all of it, without adding any comment from my side” Swaroop told The Wire. “In 2014 it was like entertainment which boosted TRPs; but today it holds up a mirror which we do not want to see.”

But apparently this truthful retelling made the exam committee and the review committee squirm. CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani was quoted in the Indian Express as saying: “My officers told me that it’s a political satire. It speaks against all politicians and is pro-Kejriwal in the way it has been shot.” He called the language in the film “inflammatory.”

Swaroop says he does not take any sides. “All the major candidates have been shown, but obviously Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal dominate, since they were the main contenders. We didn’t interview any candidate, but we have shots of media interviewing people.”

Towards the end, there are interviews with local political analysts who give their assessment of the voting patterns and the results. “It becomes clear there was polarization on religious grounds—Hindu upper caste and Dalit votes went to the BJP, the minorities went elsewhere.”

“The documentary captures the excitement, madness and noise generated during the high octane election battle in the holy city of Benaras, PM Modi’s parliamentary constituency, and in the process, lays bare the politics of the world’s biggest democracy,” said a mailer from the filmmaker.

Started in April 2014 and completed in August of 2015, this is among India’s biggest documentary films, shot over a span of 44 days on rich 4k. “It cost us a lot of money, Rs 40 lakhs (four million) and we want to release it commercially, in the cinemas, not just on YouTube,” says Swaroop. He says once he gets an official letter from the Board he will challenge the decision in a tribunal.

According to him Dance for Democracy is inspired by Nobel Laureate Ileas Canetti’s book “Crowds and Power”. Two teasers have been released on Youtube: the first is a montage of Varanasi visuals with rousing orchestral music, and the second has a portion of a speech by candidate Narendra Modi in which he talks about his happiness at being a candidate from the historic city.

Swaroop, a national award winner last year for his film Rangabhoomi is well known among film buffs as the maker of Om dar ba dar, a “postmodernist” film he made in 1988 which was never commercially released in India but which now enjoys a cult following.