Wednesday, November 02, 2005

National Film Awards : The absurdity of censorship

July 14, 2005

Sh Jaipal Reddy
Hon’ble Minister for Information & Broadcasting
Government of India
New Delhi


This is in continuation of my letter of July 9, 2005 and our meeting last evening concerning the issue of censorship at the National Film Awards and the arbitrary rejection of my film Final Solution (149 minutes) about the Gujarat carnage by officials from your ministry. I entered my film for the 52nd NFA in order to demonstrate the absurdity of using the censor certificate as the sole dating device to determine whether or not a film was produced during the previous calendar year. I also wanted to urge you to not allow the censor board primacy over a Jury comprising eminent film-makers, critics and media professionals, especially since they are more qualified than panel members of CBFC preview committees to judge the artistic and technical excellence of a film. Though my film wasn’t allowed to be screened to the Jury even in light of what you felt to be “convincing evidence” that the film was produced in 2004, I’m happy that it has accorded you an opportunity to intervene personally and finally set at rest an extremely contentious issue – censorship at the National Film Awards, which has led over 250 independent film-makers to boycott the awards in 2004 and 2005.

In view of your personal assurance and your follow-up instructions last evening to Jt Secreatry (film) Sh Afzal Amanullah to include dating devices other than the censor certificate, thereby effectively removing the shadow of censorship from the National Film Awards, as discussed with you, I have this morning withdrawn my writ petition from the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. I’d like to formally thank you personally and on behalf of the documentary film-making fraternity for taking this progressive step. This will also formalise as a policy the strong recommendation made yesterday by the National Film Award Jury (non-feature) to remove the requirement of a censor certificate for entering the NFA. Though we now await your formal announcement of the same to the media, this step will not only put to rest an extremely contentious issue but also help dispel the pall of infamy these measures attracted within the international film-making community, especially since no film festival or reputed awards worldwide allow censorship of any kind.

I am also deeply appreciative of your transparency in dealing with this entire matter, especially the frequent access that enabled us to discuss the matter with you on multiple occasions. That we were not led to reel under the opacity of the decision-making process is a measure of your deep commitment to openness in administration. However, Sir, I must share with you my strong disappointment concerning the administrative ethos at your Ministry. Policy-making is primarily a political function while its implementation is the responsibility of the bureaucracy. As the political head is ultimately accountable to the people, it is rightly he who sets the tone and tenor of policies. Bureaucratic obduracy can not and should not pass off as sagacious advice, especially when it seems to either subvert or stall policy-making. In the specific case of my film, the bureaucracy seemed to suggest that a Minister of the Union is bound by administrative instruction to a point where he neither has the powers to interpret it, nor implement its spirit. It is with deep dismay that I watched you being informed that you had no discretion to take a purposive and equitable view of a mere executive instruction, even though you have the statutory if not constituent power to do so. When you sought clarification from the law ministry, it was delayed to a point when it became infructuous, i.e., just hours after the Jury finalised the list of awards. Even then, for a full 12 hours, this formal advice did not reach you.

I will desist from speculation about what may have happened if the clarification had come to you in time and allowed the Ministry to tender my film to the Jury for consideration, but at the same time, I am deeply perturbed about the bureaucracy’s shackling campaign, characterised by the obfuscatory interpretation of small print by smaller minds. What the odd individual and department did in this case is something that must be addressed, but more important is to recognise that such a roleplay is not an aberration but an inexorable pattern.

Sir, I know through our discussions that you too feel that small print must not be allowed to outwit reason and policy direction. In this instance, the officials advanced a series of specious arguments in order to prevent the film from even being considered for a national award. It is ridiculous that though Final Solution (149-minutes) was seen by thousands in 2004, showcased at numerous international film festivals and screened at over 100 universities worldwide, these officials claimed it did not even exist in that year and that the film was produced only in 2005!

Sir, Final Solution created history at the Berlin International film festival by not only being the first Indian film to win an award in the last couple of decades, it signalled a recognition of the documentary form as being most significant in the post-911 world. Berlinale’s Wolfgang Staudte prize had never been awarded to a documentary before; later in the year, the Cannes jury underscored the import assigned to the documentary form by giving its main prize to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911. Final Solution (149) has been the first ever Indian documentary to win awards at the 3 Continents film festival in Nantes (France), the first ever Indian film to be nominated for the coveted Grierson Awards (UK) and the first Indian film to win the prestigious Freedom of Expression award given by the worldwide Index on Censorship. Yet, this country’s national awards and official film festivals fail to find a place for the film.

Broadcasters worldwide want the film as part of their programming lineup, but it is yet to find a space on Doordarshan! Audiences on BBC (UK and Ireland), NHK(Japan), DR2 (Denmark), Dutch television and a host of other networks have already appreciated the film; I am now in dialogue with major broadcasters in Germany, France, USA and half a dozen other countries. Yet, I despair to think of the bureaucratic hurdles I’ll need to navigate to have the film shown on national television in my own country.

I do hope, Sir, that my experience at the 52nd National Film Awards sets in motion a process of review of some of the policies and processes currently in place at your Ministry.

Rakesh Sharma


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