Back in the ’70s, Satyajit Ray complained about the process of getting government sanctions to send films to festivals as “bureaucratic shilly-shallying.” Government measures changed over time but the government interference into films hasn’t. Two films, dropped from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry, are testimony. While the makers are voicing their protest, Apurva Asrani and Sujoy Ghosh have quit the jury.
One wonders whether government intrusion at an international film festival is desirable at all. Steering committee member of IFFI, Anand Gandhi believes not. He says the best way to improve the situation is to create an autonomous body for the fest. “A body made of individuals who have represented Indian cinema globally in recent times, young filmmakers, curators and film scholars who are recognised as the voice of cinema on a global platform could come together. If the ministry were to leave the decisions to them, at least, largely, then we’d have a better festival.”
Filmmaker Avinash Das also condemns all government interference, calling it the principle reason for stagnation of art and culture forums. “Just put the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image’s (MAMI) Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI side-by-side. MAMI is actually able to get more quality films to screen, simply because it doesn’t have as much government interference,” he elaborates. Avinash’s words can perhaps find further validation in the fact that MAMI had a screening of S Durga in their India Gold section — the same film that has been dropped from the IFFI line-up without an explanation.
Convenor of the Preview Committee for IFFI, Vivek Agnihotri, sheds light on the matter, claiming that two films would have been dropped either way. “Of the 153 films selected initially, the jury was to recommend 22 films to the ministry, which would then select 20 out of those. If not, S Durga and Nude, two other films would have been dropped. The jury would have a problem with those then,” says the filmmaker.
“IFFI curates and compiles works from across the globe bringing together the best of cinematic voices. Would we want to risk looking as though the government has muzzled artistic freedom,” asks preview board member Vani Tripathi Tikoo, from the BJP, rhetorically.
She adds that though she is troubled that the jury members are upset, she feels dissent is a part and parcel of democracy. “The voice of dissent is also an integral part of that beautiful fabric of Indian democracy. And we shall be hearing a lot of dissenting voices in the films that we’ve chosen for the panorama this year at IFFI,” she signs off.
— With inputs from Subhash K. Jha