Indian filmmakers have had enough of censorship from the authorities, from state television and now lately from the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), that otherwise, since its inception in 1990, has earned a good reputation for being a fair forum without censorship. This year a lot of controversy surrounded the festival. First the festival announced a new clause that required the Indian films entered for the festival to furnish a censorship certificate (which wasn’t required for the international films). This caused a large group of Indian documentary filmmakers to call for a boycott of the festival, which was followed by international festivals and organisations. Due to massive pressure, the MIFF abandoned the clause, and the filmmakers called off the boycott. However, after the final festival selection had been made, several Indian films that had received international acclaim and recognition were not included. As those were all politically sensitive, it was quite clear to the Indian filmmakers that backhanded censorship had still taken place.
The Campaign Against Censorship (CAC)—an action platform of over 275 doc filmmakers from all over India—didn’t call for a new boycott of the MIFF, as they find it has been and has the potential to be an important festival for independent docs in the future. They came up with several proposals to avoid censorship, including the re-constitution of selection committees and the appointment of an independent festival director. This year, a films division officer put together the final list based on the computer-registered scores of the selection-committee panellists. The panel didn’t meet to discuss and there was no festival director to head the selection.
It didn’t help the MIFF’s case when two persons withdrew from the organisation. Veteran playwright-filmmaker Girish Karnad rescued himself from the final jury saying that “It’s difficult to be part of the MIFF as the festival’s very purpose has become vitiated.” Filmmaker R.V. Ramani resigned from the organising committee stating, “After going through the records in your office, I am convinced the selection process was flawed. The selection committee had no empowerment, they never knew of the final selection; the then director had interfered with the selection process and has even manipulated the results. This is making a mockery of the clauses that ‘the decision of the selection committee is final’ and that ‘there is no censorship clause for the films/videos entered’.”
The CAC decided that the best way to protest was to organise their own alternative festival to run concurrently to the MIFF, showing 58 films that had either not been selected or films that had been withdrawn by the filmmakers in protest. Very quickly they set up VIKALP: Films for Freedom. The VIKALP took place 100 metres from the MIFF just across the road and was a huge success. The screenings drew full houses and on the second day of the event more than 1800 delegates had already registered.
At the MIFF’s awards ceremony some of the guests also expressed their support for the VIKALP. International jury chairman Tom Zubrycki (Australian documentary filmmaker) said, ‘‘The censorship issues must be resolved quickly and effectively, otherwise the MIFF will lose its credibility.’’ And Supriyo Sen, winner of Best Film Golden Conch, said in his acceptance speech, “The MIFF is an important platform, but we have to listen to voices raised.”
VIKALP’s success clearly indicates that festivals and censorship do not go hand in hand, and that the MIFF should change its attitude if they wish to continue. VIKALP became much more than a protest, it turned into a real alternative festival.
The “rejected” films that were screened at VIKALP included the following films, which have all travelled to international festivals (including Berlin, IDFA, Locarno, Yamagata, Cinema du reel, Leipzig and Munich).
Words on Water by Sanjay Kak
Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma
In the Flesh by Bishakha Dutta
The Men in the Tree by Lalit Vachani
A Night Of Prophecy by Amar Kanwar
The City Beautiful by Rahul Roy
New Improved Delhi by Vani Subramanian and Surajit Sarkar
Sita’s Family by Saba Dewan
Narayan Gangaram Surve by Arun Khopkar
Unlimited Girls by Paromita Vora
Naata by Anjali Monteiro and K. P. Jayasankar