Does dissent have no space under the current regime of our democracy? It does seem so as three documentaries based on “socially relevant themes” have been denied censor exemption for screening at the upcoming International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.
The festival, set to begin on June 16, is organised by the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy. The Academy works under the state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
One of the films has been on YouTube for several months. In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, made by Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian in June 2016, documents a small thriving community of students of the University of Kashmir, whose choice of weapon is music and art. The 16-minute film gives us a glimpse into forms of aesthetic responses that students have chosen to the unrest that continues to tear the valley apart.
It is one of the three protest films, along with PN Ramachandra’s The Unbearable Being of Lightness (based on Rohith Vemula’s suicide) and Kathu Lukose’s March, March, March (based on the student agitation in JNU) that have been denied permission for screening at the festival.
In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, a film based on the current unrest in Kashmir valley, a space around a fallen chinar tree becomes a space for Kashmiri photographers, journalists, singers, rappers and artists to meet to make art for “personal healing”.
Their music and art is intertwined with stories of death, oppression, brutality; as one of the students put it, “Conflict is a perfect place for art to thrive.”
With cameras, guitars, and paint brushes, these youngsters are talking about a choice they have made that does not include picking up a gun, but to keep their narrative alive.
Co-director Fazil told scroll.in that the ministry’s decision was surprising, especially since the film was a personal project that was posted on YouTube soon after its completion. “I was perplexed, to be frank, I didn’t know the reason,” he told Scroll.in. “We will be conducting protest screenings, and we will be approaching the Kerala High Court in our personal capacity to challenge the decision.”
The filmmakers are seeking an interim relief with the aim to screen the film at the tenth edition of the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).
While films do not require a certificate from the Censor Board to be screened at a festival, they do need a no-objection or ‘exemption’ certificate from the I&B Ministry, without which documentaries and feature films cannot be screened.
The Indian Express quoted Academy chairman Kamal: “All the films, except these three, got exemption. The Ministry hasn’t cited any reason for denying censor exemption for these films, which are based on socially relevant themes.”
Kamal said that the films were perhaps denied permission because they deal with intolerance in the country. “We have moved an appeal, asking the Ministry to consider the plea seeking censor exemption again. We are yet to get a reply,” Kamal said.
“We are going through an undeclared emergency. It is a time when the rulers decide what we should eat, what we should wear and what we should talk about,” he said to the Indian Express.
Shawn Sebastian, co-director of the film posted on Facebook, “We are yet to ascertain specific factors that irked the ministry and have not received any official communication. However, we deeply condemn the practice of censorship tools creeping into the documentary film space in the country. Film festivals such as IDSFFK have always remained crucial platforms for documentary film makers to showcase their work. If not rectified at its nascent stage, what lies ahead for documentary film makers are the watchful eyes of authorities and strangling by the government that curtail the freedom of expression central to the medium.”
Watch In the Shade of Fallen Chinar here: