Kerala Film Body Head Calls for Dismissal of CBFC Member Who Called Film 'Anti-National'

The CBFC member criticised the Malayalam movie ‘Varthamanam’ for allegedly touching upon ‘Kashmir’ and ‘JNU protests’.

Kozhikode: Kerala state film academy chairman and veteran Malayalam filmmaker Kamal has demanded the dismissal of V. Sandeep Kumar, an official of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) who made controversial remarks against an upcoming Malayalam movie and its screenwriter.

Kamal said Sandeep violated rules as he should never have made his feelings about a movie that he reviewed for the censor board public. “This is a big mistake. He (Sandeep) should be dismissed from the censor board,” Kamal told The Wire.

Earlier, Sandeep, a member of the CBFC’s regional office in Kerala, had tweeted that he was against granting clearance to Varthamanam, a Malayalam movie. He said he opposed the movie because “the movie’s screenwriter and producer was Aryadan Shoukath” and its theme was “anti-national”. 

Sandeep’s tweet, which initiated a controversy and was later deleted, came soon after the CBFC regional office denied the movie the censor certificate. 

Sandeep, notably, is a BJP leader. Another member in the screening committee had also objected to the film. 

Varthamanam features award-winning South Indian actress Parvathy Thiruvothu in the lead role. The movie’s director Sidhartha Siva and screenwriter Shoukath have also won awards.

Shoukath is a local leader of the Congress party.

According to Shoukath, the film revolves around the life of a young Muslim woman from Kerala who lives in Delhi and is a researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The topic of her research is Mohammed Abdur Rahiman, a popular freedom fighter and journalist from Kerala. According to reports, the movie also discusses student protests in JNU and the Kashmir issue.

Sandeep had found this theme “anti-national”.  

A poster of the film Varthamanam.

‘Delhi police portrayed in bad light’

After his tweet sparked a controversy, Sandeep apparently softened his stand. 

In his latest tweet, Sandeep said he objected to the movie because it could cause “hatred and violence” between communities. However, like his earlier charges against the movie, he did not elaborate on this allegation either.

Talking to The Wire, Sandeep said the movie was made with “bad intentions”.

He said the Delhi police and some other government institutions were portrayed in the movie in bad light. “Some scenes in the movie portray the Delhi police as an anti-Muslim institution,” he said.

Also read: Delhi Police Affidavit Shows Muslims Bore Brunt of Riots, Silent on Who Targeted Them and Why

However, in his controversial tweet which was deleted later, Sandeep said he opposed the movie in the screening committee because it talks about the “JNU protests” and “Muslim, Dalit persecution”.

‘Movie promotes secular ideas’

According to Aryadan Shoukath, the screenwriter and co-producer of the movie, the censor board’s decision is “unfortunate”.

“The movie conveys an important, secular message, which everyone should watch,” he told The Wire.

Earlier, in a Facebook post which was widely reported by the Malayalam media, Shoukath asked how a movie that talks about “student protests”, or the country’s “democratic struggles”, becomes “anti-national”.

He added that “undeclared emergency” in artistic expressions “cannot be accepted”. 

‘Censor board needs reform’

The state film academy chairman Kamal said the very fact that Sandeep made a public remark about a movie, which he watched and reviewed for the censor board, itself is a violation of the rules. 

He said the restrictive intervention of both the censor board and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has “significantly increased” since the BJP came to power in New Delhi. He added that this weakened artistic expression and dissenting voices.

As the chairperson of a film academy that conducts two international film festivals annually, this is not the first time he is witnessing a brush with censorship.

In 2017, the I&B ministry had denied the certificate of exemption to three documentaries for screening at the 10th edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK). The three films deal with the JNU protests, the unrest in Kashmir and the suicide of Rohith Vemula.

In 2019, the same ministry had denied permission to screen Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Vivek (Reason) at the same Festival at Thiruvananthapuram.

Responding to a question, Kamal said the censor board, which “has become a political tool in the hands of Sangh parivar”, needs “reformation”.

“Censor board is not a place to be occupied by politicians, including the Sangh parivar people,” he said. Kamal also said the board members should at least have “good values and broad principles”, even if they are not from the same field.

The future of the film Varthamanam will now be decided by a ‘revising committee’ of the CBFC.

According to Parvathy V, the ‘regional officer’ of the CBFC’s Kerala office, the film is “still within the purview of the board”. Parvathy declined to respond to other questions, including on her colleague Sandeep’s controversial tweet.

Talking to The Wire, Shoukath said he and others who have worked on the film will fight until they get clearance for screening.

Muhammed Sabith is an independent journalist based in Kozhikode, Kerala. He can be reached at sabith.muhemmad@gmail.com