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India’s Cinematic Liberty Under Threat?

Madhur Bhandarka

National Award-winner Madhur Bhandarkar, who has had several run-ins with the censor board over his critically-acclaimed projects, is exasperated at having to give all kinds of explanations about his next outing “Indu Sarkar”, which is set against the backdrop of the 1975-77 Emergency….A special report by Sahana Ghosh for Asian Lite News

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Madhur Bhandarkar

The director is clear that he “won’t show the film” to anyone, especially politicos demanding exclusive screenings.

“I don’t want to politicise the whole thing. Ultimately the story of the film is not (about) politics. The era is that of the Emergency. We don’t want to connect with politics. We want to have a release so that each and every human being can connect with the movie,” Bhandarkar said.

With a fortnight to go for the release, Bhandarkar just wants to stick to the July 28 release date.

“I don’t want to miss the release date,” he stressed.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has suggested 12 cuts and two disclaimers in the film that features Neil Nitin Mukesh, Kirti Kulhari and Tota Roy Chaudhary.

The three-minute trailer of the film was unveiled on June 16.

Controversy over the film has ranged from reactions against the censor board (which recently drew severe flak over “Lipstick Under My Burkha”), backlash against the filmmaker (a Congress representative has announced prize money for any person who can blacken the filmmaker’s face) to politicos demanding exclusive screenings ahead of censor certification for approvals.

New Delhi: (L-R) Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, music composer Bappi Lahiri, makeover expert Ishika Taneja and actress Kirti Kulhari at the launch of his upcoming film "Indu Sarkar's" song "Dilli Ki Raat" in New Delhi, on July 14, 2017. (Photo: Amlan Paliwal/IANS) by .
(L-R) Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, music composer Bappi Lahiri, makeover expert Ishika Taneja and actress Kirti Kulhari at the launch of his upcoming film “Indu Sarkar’s” song “Dilli Ki Raat” (Photo: Amlan Paliwal/IANS)

“I won’t show the film. If somebody wants to see the film later, then we will take a call. Let the authorities first clear the film, till that time I am not going to show the film (to anyone). Let the censor take a call. I feel the revising committee will be more liberal,” the 48-year-old asserted.

The trailer has prompted Congress leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia to allege the film is “fully sponsored”. Legal notices have also been sent by a woman claiming to be Sanjay Gandhi’s daughter, who has termed the trailer ‘shocking and grossly misleading’ in its portrayal of the late Congress leader.

“People were saying the film is sponsored, why are they keeping quiet now? Why are they not talking after I have got all the cuts,” an irritated Bhandarkar asked.

Amid all this, Congress leader Jagdish Tytler has written a letter to the filmmaker demanding to see the research behind it, worried over the negative portrayal of a character that apparently resembles him.

“Jagdish wants a clean image in the film — but he has not seen the movie. So how can he say like that? They are having knee-jerk reactions, they are agitating, there’s no point. Have I taken his name in the film? No. Then? Let him see the film and then he should decide,” the “Chandni Bar” and “Fashion” filmmaker said.

Mumbai: Actress Kirti Kulhari during trailer launch of her upcoming film "Indu Sarkar" in Mumbai, on June 16, 2017. (Photo: IANS) by .
Actress Kirti Kulhari during trailer launch of her upcoming film “Indu Sarkar” in Mumbai (Photo: IANS)

But for the umpteenth time, the Padma Shri recipient wonders why the censor board passes certain lines in the trailer but objects to other words in the film.

“Trailer was accepted and loved by everybody. I didn’t get any criticism. The censor board didn’t criticise. They loved the film, they felt these words (like ‘RSS’ and even ‘Kishore Kumar’) should not be there,” Bhandarkar clarified.

“I said, ‘What yardsticks you are using?’ The trailer has been passed. ‘Ab Is desh mein Gandhi ke mayne badal chuke hain.’ These are the lines passed in the trailer. So why are you not allowing (words) in the film,” he said.

With “Indu Sarkar” wading into troubled waters, has the film fraternity been forthcoming in expressing solidarity?

“Nobody has spoken about it much. I understand their fear because of the political tones attached to the film, because film people don’t want to take a stand, especially when the film is political. They will call me and say ‘we are behind you’ but ‘we don’t want to come in the open, yaar, yeh toh political film hai’,” he conceded.

Bhandarkar also pointed to the cinematic liberties taken in Hollywood vis-a-vis films on Holocaust, civil rights and liberties, etc.

Asked about the balance between cinematic liberties and the sense of responsibility in filmmaking, Bhandarkar noted: “I have been making films since so many years. I have a trail of cinema which is topical. I am a responsible citizen. I am a National Award winner, a Padma Shri. I don’t make films for promotions, publicity, etc.”