Friday, August 26, 2011

The distribution initiative

The basic idea is for those familiar with my earlier work to turn into mini-distributors for my upcoming films. You could make a commitment to distribute 10 or more copies within your own social network! You could ask your universities, libraries, colleges and organisations to buy copies at institutional rates. In any case, you could simply help spread the word.

For us documentary film-makers, the struggle is unending. First - we struggle for resources and funding to somehow make the films, en route we deal with all sorts of problems - those who prevent us from filming or attack our crews or those who create troubles of assorted kinds. Then, there is the Indian Censor board. Followed by extralegal censors - political groups, goons and fundamentalists - who prevent screenings, disrupt them or threaten venue-owners and organisers.

And finally, there is the censorship of the market - no theatrical release for documentaries, no mainstream DVD distribution and no Indian TV channels interested in showing hard-hitting political films! (Even if some channels show 'documentaries'), they pay a pittance, hardly enough even to cover even a month of expenses and salaries!)

In earlier years, I've simply carried DVDs to screenings, urging the audiences to buy copies, spread the work and lend their support. Or sent out thousands of mailers, uploaded my work on all sorts of servers and sites and launch periodic, focussed campaigns. This time, I want to explore the power of our own networking to distribute as many copies as possible. The core idea behind censorship - whether by the State or by the market or by extralegal censors - is to bury the work, prevent it from circulating. I'd like to take that on with all your help and advice.

None of the new films will be ready before mid 2012. I'll be posting excerpts and trailers online to create and sustain an interest. When released, the DVDs (within India only) are likely to priced between Rs 300 and 500 for individuals and Rs 1000-1500 for institutions. These will be priced higher for Europe/USA, exact figures to be determined only post-completion.

A barely-hidden agenda is to also have an option to raise funds in case I run out of money to edit/complete the ongoing work. If and when that happens, I'll appeal to members here to book advance orders for the film (ie, pre-sell DVDs prior to completion; DVDs to be delivered post-release). The money raised through advance orders would go towards final editing/ mastering, DVD authoring, bulk replication and distribution-related expenses.

Those who'd like to be involved, please email

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mumbai's July 2011 blasts and Subramanian Swamy's hate-mongering

Subramanian Swamy wrote an incendiary piece in DNA, offering his remedies for terrorism. I was aghast, struck by his shameless opportunism and incitement, fanning the flames in an already surcharged environment. Like many, I too protested to the Editor for providing space to Swamy’s hate-mongering. In response, I was invited to write - this is about the spirit of Mumbai and the soul of India.

Swamy's Swamy's hate-mongering article is on (published on July 16, 3 days after the blasts)

My rejoinder-response was published the next day -

Some other links:

Here's a hindi version of my rejoinder-response to Subramanian Swamy's hate-mongering in the DNA, Mumbai. Thank you Sandeep Samwad for the prompt translation! - Babatdor Dkhar, a Lawyer and Founding Editor of Northeast Monologues on Swamy and his rants.

From the archives - Ram Jethmalani, himself no saint, on Subramanian Swamy - "diseased insect", "vicious viper", "gutter...his natural habitat".... lol - these 'bigwigs' and their writings! :)

Inactive blog

For all those who visit this -

This blog has been inactive for a long time now. While an explanation follows below, for those interested in updates about my work, especially the new, upcoming films, do join Please visit the page and send me a request to 'join'. Members of the group will get regular updates as well as info on and access to excerpts/ trailers of the new films as they get edited.

The 'explanation':

My film-making and all other work has been on hold for a couple of years. As has been all travel, public interactions at screenings or any lectures/ seminars/ public meetings. As part of the same process, my online presence has at best been erratic - sometimes none for weeks or even months. This blog has suffered as well.

For those who know of it - the explanation is in the form of a seeming code: L5S1! For the 'unaware' - it simply means that my spine decided to throw major tantrums, finally registering its strongest protests against all the abuse and stress it has been subjected to for several years.

The problem first surfaced in late 2005, in the form of serious, recurring lower back pain, and the consequent sleep deprivation and chronic exhaustion. But there always was so much to do - more screenings, more editing, more versions, more research, more travels, more filming! And all that extraneous activity - battles with the Censor Board, another with the Ministry & the National Film awards organised by it and the big one - with NYPD and NYC. Though we prevailed each time, it took up much physical energy, mindspace and a ridiculous amount of time, stretching over a couple of years. Tackling it all with recurring spasms/pains that curtailed movement and many of the everyday functions also took a serious toll, esp since many of legal actions were time-bound and had to be dealt with despite the lower back problems. (It always brings a wry smile when some of my critics accuse me of "doing it for publicity" when I take on NYPD or the Government of India or the rightwing attempts to prevent my screenings! Not only it is publicity I don't actually need, it is something I'd rather not be drawn into at all - it is sapping beyond description!)

In 2006, the problem became so severe that everywhere I travelled, friends always had to pick up my bags! Filmfest volunteers'd be extra careful during their airport pickups and despite my embarrassment, I'd request the airlines for assistance, a couple of times on wheelchairs! I had to stop all international trips post Apr 2007 (all domestic travel too came to a grinding halt since Feb 2010)! Since then, its only been short car rides, that too only on the rare good day!

To rewind - by early 2007, I began suffering excruciating pain/ spasms and though I did consult doctors and do some token physio, I actually inflicted great damage by soldiering on. I filmed and edited throughout 2007, Modi's re-election year in Gujarat. Much of it involved rough travels in the rural and tribal belts. And all of it involved what the doctors later forbade absolutely - bending, crouching, imbalanced postures - all of it a multiple occurence daily (after all, one can't use the camera and not bend/ stretch, tilt/lean to get the right frame!).

By end-2007, after filming the Modi election campaign, the pains became so unbearable that I was bedridden for 2-3 months in early 2008. Doctors who examined my earlier reports and x-rays etc told me that I had been filming. travelling and editing long hours throughout 2007 with a slip disc (the famed L5S1 - the lower back vertebra), inflammation of the sacro-iliac joint, malalignment between the spine & the pelvic joints and some tissue damage in the lower back. Thus began a cycle of consultants, physio, a cocktail of pills (antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, painkiller, chemical vitamins, antacids and some SOS drugs!), MRIs, X-Rays, multiple hospitals, doctors, specialists etc. The lumbar spinal belt (what I call my 'corset') became a regular accessory!

During the next couple of years, 2-3 senior doctors advised me to have lower back surgery (and each time "immediately"), a leading hospital suggested ozone injections to the spine, another suggested laser surgery. And all sorts of physio, biomechanics, corrective/ remedial accesorisation (one physio insisted I wear elevated insoles inside all my footwear - it led to even greater pains!) and so on. Finally, in late 2010, I decided to ignore allopathy altogether, decided to ignore all advice for surgery [it was invariably qualified by the recurring refrain - "it may not make the pain go away and may cause newer pains in some cases" and the "you will now need to live carefully from now on", implying no bending/crouching/ incorrect postures (ie, goodbye to camerawork), no rough travels, esp no rural roads (ie, goodbye to my kind of film-making, which gets much of its depth only through the on-the-road shoots in cities/bastis, villages and tribal areas) and no long working hours (ie, goodbye to any editing)].

I first turned instead to Iyengar yoga under an MD, but it proved to be far too rigorous and vigorous, especially since we were sticking to known templates. I finally turned to a surgeon who gave up surgery 30-odd years ago and opted to cure people through customised yoga, often modified for the specific set of problems. After 6-8 months of a disciplined regimen, I'm now able to sit up once again for more than 2-3 hours at a time, travel at least locally and finally go and do simple things like watch a movie inside a cinema hall (instead of watching it on DVD, being horizontal) or go grocery shopping or browsing in bookshops. And I'm finally and formally commencing the editing of my new films.

Throughout the above chain of events, I contributed directly through my own idiocies. Each time I felt I'd recovered a bit, I'd try to resume work, only to collapse within days. Even this didn't deter me from still taking off on shoots, only to return and be horizontal, groaning for a couple of months, gritting my teeth through yet another cycle of bedrest, more pills and physio etc. The first time - in end- 2008 - the doctors had pronouned me recovered enough to be 'fit', advocating caution though. It was while filming in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks that I had to abandon shooting after 15 days, a first for me. Yet another first since 2007 was staying back in the hotel room while on location, sending my crew helmed by an AD or a friend instead, as some days it was impossible even to get up and stand, let alone film for 12 hours!

After taking 3 months off, I once again decided to shoot in early 2009 - my crews filmed in Kandhamal, Ahmedabad, Azamgarh and Vidarbha - I co-ordinated all this. I personally filmed through the pain, first in Mangalore and then in Malegaon during the 2009 parliament elections. Once again, a post-collapse recovery ensued and yet again, in late 2009, I was back filming in Malegaon and Pune etc. It again took its toll. But it was in mid 2010 that the worst of the lumber locks happened (I'd ignored the first one in mid 2007 and two subsequent ones as these were episodic, ranging from a few hours to a few days). This time, I was absolutely unable to stand, or sit, or even recline. Taking an unassisted step was out of the question, even an assisted single step seemed herculean! After being totally bed-bound for weeks, it was a major accomplishment to negotiate a flight of stairs to come into my own living room to be able to watch TV or a DVD! I still gamely tried to direct a small, young team, mostly from a horizontal position, trying to kickstart the postproduction and editing processes. It was another mini lumbar lock that led me to completely abandon any work (editing/ filming or anything else), disband the team and focus solely on yoga, healing and recovery.

So, do forgive me for being erratic with my blog or emails etc - I was sometimes unable to log in for weeks/ months to even read my emails. Even when I did read, responses had to be indefinitely postponed, half-replies sitting in the drafts folders, especially since online (or rather sitting up time) was often rationed to an hour or two on a good day!

Lest any of you get alarmed, I'm now commencing work only after consultation with my doctor-cum-yoga guru and only after spending a couple of pain free months (for the first time in 5-6 years!). We've very carefully monitored the progress, increased activity levels gradually, and on a very moderate scale. I've now been cleared to work for upto 8-9 hours a day in bursts of 3-4 hours followed by long breaks. Even been cleared for travel and filming as long as I don't do my usual 14-16 hour days but a more modest 8-9 hours with a break in-between.

First on the agenda is editing (details on and next is followup filming required for the completion of the ongoing films. I expect to have 2 films ready next year and another 2 the year after. If and when I can get more active, I'll return to blogging and writing etc. For now, this blog will remain inactive. Those interested in my work and updates should send me requests on the facebook group page.


ps - The editing process has commenced, but as you can imagine, 4 years of no travel etc and indefinite postponement of work have resulted in low/no income years - and I'm strapped for resources. Some friends have pitched in with help, but midway through the process, I'll definitely need to raise more resources to complete the films under production. Those who wish to help should definitely join the group as I'll circulate any updates/ appeals in the group itself, instead of circulating them randomly, at large.

pps - Those who're upset with my for not posting their comments online, please be assured that I'm not 'censoring' you. I've now published most of the harsher comments; the only ones not published are those that are abusive in nature, with rather colourful, graphic language. I've also chosen to ignore some of the more direct threats and abusive cautions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

censorship blues...

(to be completed soon)

This is in reaction to a question by a researcher working on censorship in India. According to her, some local film-makers have accused those of us taking on the Censor Board directly of being "pro-censorship"! As per their logic, our act of applying for certification implies our support of a censor regime. While Anand Patwardhan, I and others have long found this to be a ridiculous assertion, especially in the light of our well-documented battles against censorship, the rather mischievous nature of this argument and its unchallenged propagation do need to be dealt with. While I write a considered formal response, here are some bullet points to think about:

The censorship debate in India seems to have been framed mostly around state censorship, either through its Censor Board or during selections for local film festivals.

There are several other forms of censorship often ignored in the entire rhetorical discourse...

Censorship to me is any hurdle or impediment in the way of free speech:
*whether self-imposed
*Or by the State and its censor boards, police or bureaucracy
*Or extralegal censorship by party goons (left/right or centrist)
*Or by the marketplace
*Or funders/ commissioning editors
*Or by any other agency/ individual.

Can and should the entire censorship debate be framed vis-a-vis CBFC alone?

- Is pricing your DVD at Rs 750 or 1000 tantamount to censorship, as it denies access to many! By making a choice to not make it available either through online portals or through stores and bookshops, are some of us practising the very censorship we publicly oppose?

- Why is there such little focus within the debate on the single, and perhaps the only tool to fight censorship of most kinds - Distribution!

- Is documentary to be confined to haloed spaces, colleges and NGO screenings, average circulations not excedding a thousand or two for the more visible docs? Isn't that tantamount to censorship since only a handful are able to access the film?

- Are some kinds of films targettted more than the others, even though theoretically everyone agrees that all films are political in some way or the other...

- Are realities of censorship different for funded film-makers vs independent film-makers? After all, they recover all their costs and make a tidy profit from the lavish budgets and donor grants - on many of them, there's no pressure to earn a living! For the self-funded film-makers, the only way to finance their films is through DVD sales - those of us who oppose censorship and yet comply with the law are often forced to do so only because we hope to have wide local sales or someday have a theatrical release. (It is illegal under the Cinematograph ACT to buy/sell/lease/ rent/ exhibit any film sans certification - no cinema theatre will touch any uncertified film, no well known or major distribution chain will stock or sell the film - and as I have found out, the rare ones among us who approach bulk replicators to make a few thousand copies are invariably asked for certificates - or else we are refused!). The funded film-makers mostly don't own copyrights exclusively, nor do they have any need to distribute widely to earn or raise funds - it'd seem many are even unaware of the reality above as they've never had to deal with it directly, but only in the form of abstract principles and feelings!

- Is the censorship debate as black and white as it is made out to be?

- Isn't the battle of censorship really to be fought in the realm of public opinion? Isn't it important for such a campaign to visibly take on the censor board and expose the nature of censorship and laws etc? Or must we oppose censorship in the abstract alone, without demonstrating to the civil society at large tangible instances of censorship?

- Is a single approach to combatting censorship adviseable or even tactically sound?

-Is a cut by CBFC worse than a re-edit asked for by the funder or commissioning editor? Why is the latter quietly accepted by many film-makers? (while people like Anand Patwardhan, Shabnam Virmani or I battle the censors, not accepting any cut or deletion of a single frame or word!)

- Boycott Indian censors, but what about the adherence to the HongKong/ Singapore broadcast censorship laws (documentaries aired on satellite channels)?

An exhaustive piece follows..

But for now, do browse this piece in Himal, the well-known South Asian journal

Monday, June 05, 2006

Apologise Aamir, or else...

(June 2006. Originally written for a periodical, this piece is yet to be published)

Nov 2005. Lowell, Massachusetts. Yet another screening of my film Final Solution on a university campus in USA. Minutes before I am to introduce my film, a portly, middle-aged, bespectacled man starts distributing a pamphlet. It calls my film "propaganda", accuses me of "defaming Gujarat", claims that I am a terrorist, caught casing tall buildings in New York 6 months earlier. Never mind that the New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the city of New York and NYPD on my behalf, for racist harassment. "We-are-keeping-an-eye-on
-enemies-of-Hindutva-within-and-outside-Bharat", tells me this corporate executive from Boston, while distributing his pamphlet to my audience. "Everywhere you go, we keep a record", he says. I tell him an easier way of tracking me - just check my website - for screening venues and dates.

Outside the venue, a group of desis gathers even as the film starts. They are here to oppose the screening of my film at their university, without having seen it. I invite them, but most aren't interested. They await the Q & A session, where they plan to 'ambush' me. The 'ambush' is straight out of the Hindutva websites, an 8 point questionnaire for "enemies of Hindutva"; by now, I am a veteran of such ambushes. I know between 10 and 50 people will plant themselves in different parts of the audience, raise their hands as soon as the lights come on to prevent anyone else from asking questions. "How dare you call the Gujarat violence 'genocidal', thunders one. Far away from him, in another corner of the auditorium, another gets up to tell me - "The mobs did not kill anyone. All people died in police firing. And the toll is not over 2000. It is just about 100". "Why don't you make a film for Kashmiri Pandits", asks another, his friend wonders whether my heart bleeds only for Muslims. In the next few minutes, the focus is on films I never made - why not one on Jihadi terrorism? Hindu girls kidnapped by Muslims? Fundamentalist mullahs and their fatwas? Bombay bomb blasts and Lashkar or Hizbul or Al Qaeda?

"What about the burnt train", thunders a Gujarati NRI, "what happened was a reaction to Godhra". I pose a counter question - " Do you think post-911, every New Yorker should have gone out to on the streets to rape any Muslim woman, murder Muslim babies and kill old and young men? That New Yorkers should have burnt all Muslim cafes and shops, set fire to Muslim homes and that the NYPD should've helped them do it? That mobs led by local politicians should have ruled the streets of New York in the same way they did in Gujarat?" Like a proud American citizen, he recoils and says no.

I wonder why they try to defend such barbarism for India. Long distance nationalism? A mistaken notion of what India is and what it needs? Or an implied assumption that NY is 'civilised' while India is 'backward' and hence rape, murder and mayhem are acceptable consequences?" It is a question I have posed to many 'hostile' members of my audiences - usually they have no answers. Politics of hate and intolerance doesn't rely on reason; all it demands is faith. Just log on to! Or browse any 'enemies of hindutva' blog or list!

It is not unusual for any of us raising uncomfortable questions to deal with attempts to intimidate. The hatemails. The late night phone calls. Promises to rearrange your limbs. Or anatomical conversations about your wife, sister or mother. Or, as Harsh Mander tells me about attending friends' parties in Delhi, disapproving shakes of the head, groups that dissolve suddenly as you walk to join them, with someone making just the right dismissive remark: "we-are-ashamed-of-you" or "as-a-hindu-how-can-you-criticise-Hindutva" ! As soon as Mallika Sarabhai speaks for peace in Gujarat, she transforms into a "human trafficker", with her passport impounded. Teesta Setalvad's landmark legal intervention in the Gujarat carnage cases is not because of her belief in justice and secularism, but because "she is married to a Muslim". R B Sreekumar is "an indiscreet madman" for confirming that the bureaucracy and the police machinery actively assisted its saffronazi masters during the 2002 genocide. Former BJP minister Haren Pandya is shot dead under "mysterious circumstances" some months after he speaks to the Citizens' Tribunal, even though their report does not name him. Lawyers battling the hindutva brigade in Gujarat courts speak nonchalantly of phonetaps and IB sleuths, almost as if it were an occupational hazard in Gujarat. A well-meaning IPS officer tells me to "be careful while travelling in Gujarat, especially after dark"!

Elsewhere too, interesting times await me. The Censor Board refuses to see Final Solution, instead sends me legal notices about customs and forex violations, when I carry a DVD to screen at a film festival abroad. Hindu Jagran Manch-affiliated members of CBFC threaten the theatre owner in Bangalore where my film is to be screened as the opening film for the Films for Freedom festival. Censor chief Anupam Kher calls up the Bangalore police commissioner, urging him to take action against the organisers, the film-maker and others including Anand Patwardhan. A day later, they ban my film formally. Next year, ministry officials prevent my film from competing for the National Film Awards; as per their rules, my film wasn't made during the year it won a dozen awards and had hundreds of screenings. First they delay my censor certificate, later they cite the same certificate to prove that the film was made the year after. Ministers from the 'secular' UPA government watch helplessly.

Welcome, Aamir Khan, to the world away from the arc lights. Are you surprised at the hysteria cutting across party lines? To see Congress and BJP youth burn your posters in tandem? Or Vaghela and VK Malhotra speaking the same language? Why don't you simply apologise - actors are supposed to be bimbos - just say sorry and all will be forgiven. Learn the virtues of silence. Take a lead from your own fraternity. Did Hema Malini oppose gangrapes in Gujarat? Or did Raveena Tandon speak of wombs slit open by swords during her campaign speeches? Did Vinod Khanna request Mr Modi to not recreate the horrors of the Partition violence that his own constituency, Gurdaspur suffered in 1947? Or did Shatrughan Sinha request his party's cadre to at least spare Bihari Muslims? Even Navjot Sidhu's verbosity was transformed into deafening silence - what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan? Why not be a Madhur Bhandarkar and make promotional films for the BJP? Or take some mediocre poetry into a recording studio so you can beam next to a Prime Minister or a President on Page 3? Don't you read the rightwing journal Panchjanya - don't you realise you have the wrong surname, that you must be even more careful than the regular Hindu Hero the RSS would rather have us watch?

Aamir, dance as much as you want. Sing whenever you like. But stick to the script. No spontaneous dialogues. Never express an opinion. Beat up as many baddies you want on screen. But, in real life, learn to touch their feet and seek their blessings. You might get one of the Padma awards, perhaps even a Rajya Sabha seat. Find a patron fast or learn to shut up. Even the Big B and Anil Ambani need an Amar Singh. Both the Congress and the BJP feel that you are just an actor. Both wonder - "why is Aamir talking politics"? If the ruling party and the opposition are united on an issue, can they be wrong? Talking about politics is the exclusive domain of the Raja Bhaiyyas and Sadhu Yadavs. How dare you first have an opinion and then have the audacity to express it?

Why can't you simply let the people of the Narmada valley drown? They are mere tribals and villagers - marginal people. Peripheral to our lives. The kind of farmers who commit suicides in high numbers and spoil our cocktail dinners. The kind who support naxalites. The type who demand reservations in jobs that rightly belong to the elite. The uncouth majority who can't distinguish a chardonnay from a chappal. The non-consumers, without disposable incomes. Many of them are mere freeloaders, demanding all kinds of rights when they do not even buy a bike or a computer to contibute to the glowing health of "our" economy. But for you, we would have happily underplayed them in our newspapers and TV news bulletins, like we ignored Medha Patkar and NBA activists for the first 8 days of their starvation but carried images of Modi's designer hunger strike in its first 8 minutes! Why did you have to play the spoilsport and draw attention to the issue? Why are you speaking of the Supreme Court, justice and equity? Grow up, Aamir, don't you know we are not a welfare state anymore?

Speak, but only to Stardust and Filmfare. Or at glittering awards nights. We need Mallika Sherawats and Rakhi Sawants, not some actor with a conscience. And should you persist, be ready to bear the consequences. Today, it is just a boycott in Gujarat. Tomorrow India. Then, the diaspora. Not to forget the income tax tribunals, FEMA and FERA directorates, privilege committees and censor boards. And by the way, endorse as much cola as you want, after all it has got pesticides supported by a swadeshi subsidy!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Swadeshi Fascism: Cracking da Code?

(June 2006. This piece was originally written for Times of India upon their urging. It was never published)

Soon after becoming the Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hilter called for fresh elections to the Reichstag - the German Parliament. On the evening of February 27, 1933 – six days before elections -- a massive fire broke out at the Reichstag. The next day, the Reichstag Fire Decree was signed which effectively suspended most of the civil liberties -- freedom of the person, expression, press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone, as well as the protection of property and the home.

Much in the same way that the Reichstag fire gave Hitler the opening to tighten his stranglehold and paved the way for the creation of Nazi Germany, the Sabarmati Express fire gave Modi the opening to revive the BJP's floundering electoral fortunes in Gujarat and legitimised the advent of the saffronazi.

The parallels do not end here. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) and the 2002 Gujarat carnage seem eerily similar. Considered a turning point in Nazi history, the organized anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria were a forerunner of Endlosung or the Final Solution. Reinhard Heydrich (whose office oversaw the Gestapo, police and intelligence operations) sent a secret telegram to "all headquarters and stations of the State Police" with instructions for the immediate coordination of police and political activities in inciting the riots. "...the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police... they are only to supervise the observance of the guidelines." The toll -- 36 Jews killed (some put this figures to 91), over 25,000 deported to concentration camps, 267 synagogues destroyed and nearly 7,000 Jewish shops, businesses and homes vandalized !

Closer home, survivors of the Naroda-Patiya massacre of Feb 28, 2002 recount the police reaction was far more direct, " Behnch**d, we have no orders to save you today." The Gujarat DGP P C Pande suffered memory losses while appearing before the Nanavati Commission, but an independent analysis of PCR wireless transcripts and cell phone records will confirm a chilling story of state complicity. Journalists and activists have repeatedly spoken of ministers leading mobs and supervising police operations. Hindutva mobs razed 270 mosques and dargahs, burnt and destroyed hundreds of Muslim homes and specifically targeted Muslim businesses like restaurants and timber marts in cities and petty businesses including Bohra traders' shops in villages. A Bajrang Dal activist succinctly sums it all: "The idea was to finish them financially, so that they are not able to rebuild their lives." Coincidence?

The womb-that-produces-the-enemy was repeatedly defiled, in a well-orchestrated campaign of sexual violence against Muslim women that saw similar modus operandi in Ahmedabad and Baroda, the tribal Panchmahals belt and in other remote villages of Gujarat. The carnage left in its wake 2,000 people brutally killed or "missing". (Some of them are now being found, through DNA analysis of hurriedly buried remains, like in Lunavada last week). Nearly 200,000 people were displaced, forced into relief camps and according to the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal report, the state denied them "even basic rights like water, sanitation and food supplies." Remarkable coincidence?

On March 23, 1933, the newly elected German parliament Reichstag met in Berlin and passed Hitler's Enabling Act, fortifying his position as the Führer. Formally called the Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich, it ratified restrictions on freedom of speech, press and demonstration, setting the stage for further revocation of rights. The Nazi Gleichschaltung now began a massive coordination of all aspects of life under the swastika. A week later, a national boycott of Jewish shops and department stores was ordered by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

The terror tactics intensified with the April 1 campaign. Nazi brownshirts and the SA storm troopers carried posters: "Germans, defend yourselves against the Jewish atrocity propaganda, buy only at German shops!" 6 days later, Jews were removed from all civil service positions under a new law that made "Aryanism" a necessary requirement - The Law of the Restoration of the Civil Service. Next, the Law for Preventing Overcrowding in German Schools was passed on April 25 that denied non-Aryans admittance to schools. During the next few weeks, Jews were prohibited from serving as patent lawyers, dentists, technicians and doctors in state-run insurance institutions. Few months later, Jews were formally barred from becoming university professors or lecturers, journalists or government employees. They were banned from all cultural and entertainment activities including literature, art, film and theater. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws denied Jews citizenship, leading to a time when a Jew would be forbidden even to sit with a non-Jew, let alone marry one. Because the German people still did not speak out, Hitler proceeded to prepare the nation for his Final Solution - total extermination. The Law for the Protection of the German People did more than restrict freedom of expression -- it actually paved the way for the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust.

However, in Modi's Gujarat, you don't need to create new, formal laws to do any of this. Just read pamphlets or hear speeches calling for an economic boycott of Muslims. Or talk to school children forced to leave the Don Bosco school in Ahmedabad. Just visit Hindu and Muslim ghettos in Ahmedabad. Or accompany Muslim villagers back to their villages. Or try to find them a job under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Or help them get a new ration card or treatment at a government hospital. Or attempt restoration of their homes and property taken over by the very people who killed and raped their families and friends.

The Supreme Court might be monitoring "riot cases" directly, but the saffron juggernaut rolls on in Gujarat. While upright police officers twiddle their thumbs in punishment postings, others like P C Pande survive and flourish. All critical voices are threatened, boycotted or labeled. Activist Teesta Setalvad and advocate Mihir Desai are labeled "enemies of Gujarat", Mallika Sarabhai braves harassment for speaking out and High Courts do not hesitate to formally make adverse comments, mercifully expunged by the Supreme Court. And now, it is Aamir Khan's turn.

Meanwhile, Congress governments bend over backwards to appease law-breakers. Illegal encroachments whether in Ulhasnagar or Delhi are regularized by ordinances. Yet it does not see any problems in evicting tribals and villagers from their homeland - the Narmada Valley - without making appropriate alternate arrangements. Its own Group of Ministers find rehabilitation to be woefully inadequate, yet the ex-World Bank official, now our Prime Minister, sees no cause to punish the guilty or announce a new package for the Narmada oustees.

Why not a new cess on those benefiting from the Narmada Dam so the people they have displaced are not forced to starve or migrate to urban slums. Why not ask the "5 crore Gujaratis" allegedly deeply offended by Aamir's remarks, to contribute Rs 10 each to create a corpus for rehabilitation? Or do they want watery graves to be the foundation for their own "progress"? Why don't the BJP Chief Ministers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat sit together with their Maharashtra counterpart and sort out all issues concerning rehabilitation? Or is it too much to ask them to concern themselves with the welfare of the people?

BJP's youth leaders do not want Aamir's latest film Fanaa or any earlier film to be screened in Gujarat. Cinema theatre owners have "voluntarily" boycotted Aamir. Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha of BJP ask Aamir to apologize. It is quite another matter that they failed to appeal to Modi to protect innocent Muslim women and children in 2002, or as party MPs, failed to apologise for the carnage? NSUI - the Congress youth wing is busy burning posters of Aamir while waving coke bottles. Vaghela sees a plot hatched together - "a conspiracy by the Producer and the BJP" for publicity; his colleague Yogendra Makwana wonders why "Aamir is talking politics". Is the Congress in Gujarat the new B-team for the BJP? Really, why should anyone have a monopoly over politics of intolerance? Lets learn our lessons from history.

Golwalkar, the RSS ideologue once said, "The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment -- not even citizen's rights."

So, no rights for non-Hindus? Are Muslims, Christians and Parsis reduced to second class citizens? And what about the rights of anyone speaking out against injustice? Or hate and bloodshed? Do they become "enemies of Hindutva or Gujarat"? Enjoy them while they last - you may soon have such rights in history textbooks, and that too, only till the saffronazis revise them!

But, till they do so, lets pay heed to Julius Caesar. "Beware the leader who bangs the drum of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded patriotism will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar."

Just substitute the term patriotism for Gujarati Asmita , Swaabhimman or Gaurav!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Boycott Aamir Khan?

(This piece appeared in Hindustan Times (Bombay) on May 27, 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006 is the beginning of yet another chapter in the history of Indian fascism. Aamir Khan is to be boycotted in Gujarat for expressing an opinion about resettlement of the Narmada oustees and the Vadodara violence. He is to be silenced into submission. Saffron-clad, trishul-wielding activists have been on the prowl 'peacefully', persuading theatre owners to not release the film Fanaa. As part of their responsibility towards "5 crore Gujaratis", they will leave no stone, sword or trishul unturned to protect their " swabhimaan and asmita". Just as they did in 2002.

It is not as if attack and intimidation are new tactics now being suddenly unleashed by the BJP. In 2002, NDTV's coverage of the carnage so angered Modi that he ordered a blackout of the Star News signal. Rajdeep Sardesai's vehicle was attacked minutes after he left CM Modi's home. On election day, a mob of party workers surround Barkha Dutt, right outside the BJP office. Two men standing next to my camera start chanting - "strip her, strip her". Barkha has the presence of mind to dash into the party office itself to escape the mob. Many others weren't so fortunate - many print media reporters get beaten up, a TV journalist has his arm broken, News channels have their outdoor broadcast vans ransacked. Their crime: they dared to report the truth as they saw it, refusing to buy the 'party line'.

Fascism feeds on terror. Create a fear psychosis and reap an electoral harvest. Terrorise well-defined targets and send out chilling messages. On Feb 28, 2002, two well-chosen Muslim targets were attacked. Ehsan Jafri, the Congress leader who had campaigned against Modi in Rajkot and Prof J S Bandukwala, noted civil liberties activist and a known critic of the politics of hate. Jafri was hacked to death; the professor somehow escaped, [though his home was destroyed by the very people who invited him to deliver the Savarkar Memorial lecture on Feb 26, 2002]. The message: If Bandukwala with his 'national and international' contacts and Jafri as an ex-member of Parliament with his 'Delhi' connections can't even save themselves, no Muslim is safe. Post-carnage, many in Gujarat raise their voice to appeal for peace and justice. Again a target is chosen - Mallika Sarabhai. The message: if old-money, connected families like the Sarabhais can be persecuted, don't you dare speak against us!

Post -2002 Gujarat is already witnessing segregation in schools. Women and schoolgoing children are afraid of crossing the 'border'. Ghettos have sprung up in cities, small towns and villages. Jobless youth often speak of how H-class gets all jobs while M-class (Muslims) don't. My film Final Solution records an impassioned pracharak exhorting the crowds - "buy only from Hindu shops and ride only on Hindu rickshaws". Non-Hindu police officers find it tough to get executive assignments; conscientious IPS officers who prevented bloodshed in their districts cool their heels in punishment postings. Hindu girls marrying Muslim men either get 'rescued' by Babu Bajrangi and his troops or get killed, like Geetaben or Bhartiben. VHP leaders suggest benignly, "Muslims are our younger brothers; they must respect the elders and then they will get their rights". Other hindutva activists are content with much simpler solutions - Muslims should have no right to vote, compulsory sterilisation of Muslim men at the birth of the second child, banning of Hindu-Muslim marriages, jail terms for the person converting to Islam and the Moulvi who aids him or the ultimate solution - Muslims must leave India and go to Pakistan. Echoes of Nazi Germany?

Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram symbolises the crisis of our times. In 2002, its gate were shut to Muslims seeking shelter. It is here that Medha Patkar was dragged by her hair, in full view of journalists and video cameras, in police presence, by a valiant youth called Amit Thakkar. Now, in his avataar as a BJP Yuva Morcha leader, he thunders, "Aamir Khan has insulted the five crore population of Gujarat by supporting Medha Patekar (sic)...Then he made nasty comments about chief minister Narendra Modi. There is no place for any anti-Gujarati in Gujarat". His national President, Dharmendra Pradhan is even more belligerent, determined to prevent any Aamir film, old or new, from being screened in Gujarat. BJP's national leadership declines comment. Says Arun Jailtley, "The party has nothing to do with the campaign.".He fails to condemn the politics of intimidation and fear unleashed by his own partymen in Gujarat. But, then, why should Jaitley, former Law Minister, stand up for Article 19 of the Indian constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech or Article 25 concerning freedom of conscience and free profession?

Enjoy your rights, but very quietly. Raise any questions and earn the sobriquet - "enemies of Gujarat or Hindutva "! Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels would have smiled in approval. Senator McCarthy would have chomped on his fat cigar to suggest a House un-Gujarati activities committee to investigate all the enemies of Gujarat. If Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Miller and Dashiel Hammet could be persecuted, why not Aamir Khan?

Manubhai Patel of the Gujarat Multiplex Owners' Association says, "There is no political pressure, we have done it voluntarily" Single-screen cinema owners issue ads in newspapers on May 23, promising a release of the film. By the evening, a TV channel reports that they too have 'voluntarily' joined the boycott. The Gujarat Druggists and Chemists Association wants to boycott all products being endorsed by Aamir Khan. Leaders from the Congress wonder "why is Aamir talking about political issues?" V K Malhotra and Shatughan Sinha of BJP ask Aamir to apologise.

Aamir's crime? He suggested that Narmada oustees must be rehabilitated. Is there anyone in India or among the allegedly deeply offended "5 crore Gujaratis", who believes that the people of Narmada valley have no rights? That their homes and livelihoods should be destroyed as soon as possible, without resettling them? That their villages and towns must be flooded immediately by raising the height of the dam so that the people of Gujarat can benefit? That the Narmada protestors can and must exchange their fertile lands for distant, barren plots? That their children can and should grow up in an urban slum of their choice? That their women have the option of working as maids, bargirls and prostitutes in any city of their choice within and outside Gujarat?

Imagine a government notification to set up solar power substations or rainwater harvesting reservoirs to meet power and water shortage in our cities, acquiring all of Greater Kailash in Delhi, Mylapore in Chennai, Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad, Vile Parle in Mumbai or Paldi in Ahmedabad. Imagine the furore. The 24/7 media coverage. The Residents' welfare associations demonstrating. The flood of court cases, frayed tempers and street-level skirmishes and finally, politicians making soothing noises. Do the people of Narmada valley not have the same rights as you and I in the urban middle class? Ironically, the state and central governments display remarkable haste in legalising illegal constructions in Delhi and Ulhasnagar through ordinances, bypassing the legal system completely. Should the State be selective? Isn't welfare of all its people its obligation? Why does it bend to accommodate law-breakers in our cities while ruthlessly evicting its villages and tribal hamlets? Should we raise our voice against such blatant and partisan injustice? If your answer is no, then we might as well toll the death knell of our Democracy. If yes, then that's precisely what Aamir has done!

Politics of intolerance marks Hindutva fascism, just as it did in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Attacks on intelligentsia, too, are another common ground. Stormtroopers vandalise libraries, institutions and art exhibitions routinely. Party members in censor boards merrily ban and mutilate films or harass film-makers. The BJP is only following a time-tested pattern - intimidate any independent voice into silence!

Though Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and other TV or film stars within the BJP failed to speak against the Gujarat carnage, I hope they will at least respond to this full-scale assault on a Bollywood colleague. A suggestion already doing the rounds is for the entire film industry to stop releasing new films in Gujarat. Others caution about rampant piracy - with the State looking the other way; DVDs for Fanaa are already on offer for Rs 160 in Ahmedabad . Will the Shahrukhs and Hrithiks, Subhash Ghais and Boney Kapoors of the film industry stand up and be counted when it matters? Or is the Bollywood family just a big myth, concocted for money-spinning awards nights and glitzy extravaganzas on foreign shores?

Will we refuse to learn lessons from history and fail to protest? The Gujarat BJP's message is loud and clear - "shut up or else..."
Will you?
Should I?
Or Aamir?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Rakesh Sharma vs NYPD : NYCLU files lawsuit

On Jan 10, 2006, New York Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit. Their press release is at

Those who want to read the text of the lawsuit can go to

I'd like to thank evryone who signed the protest petition as well as those who have supported the film.


Update: Both NYC and NYPD chose to settle the lawsuit out of court. NYCLU and I insisted on changes in the existing regulations, on the grounds that they restricted freedom of expression. New York city dropped its formal regulation insisting on permits (that necessiated costly insurance premium) - now documentary film-makers shooting candid-camera or cine-verite style no longer need any permits. The lawsuit was settled in Apr-May 2007 after two long years involving much legal paperwork, affidavits, my lawyers' depositions of the NYPD personnel involved and my own 8-9 hour long deposition!