Here are some overseas film project that have run into trouble over the decades.
India’s Daughter is hardly the first time the British Broadcasting Corporation has run into trouble with the government for “ruining the country’s image abroad”. In 1969, the Beeb was rapped by India for telecasting French filmmaker Louis Malle’s celebrated observational documentary Phantom India. Shot in 1968 over four months, and covering a range of themes and places (religion, caste, ethnographic portraits, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata), Phantom India clocks in at 378 minutes and was shown on French and British TV over seven episodes. The documentary, says Erik Barnouw in Documentary: A History of Non-Fiction Film, “presented a staggering pageant, filmed intimately, with love and horror, full of tantalising fragments”. Barnouw adds, “For all its sympathy, it was not a public-relations version of India.”
The Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi complained to the BBC for showing Phantom India in the United Kingdom. “The Indian community in London started sending protest letters to the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Indian High Commission,” writes Vijaya Mulay in From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond Images of India in International Cinema in the Twentieth Century. “The BBC refused, and India ordered the closure of the BBC office in Delhi.” Phantom India was not officially banned in India, Mulay points out, since it was never submitted to the Central Board of Film Certification. The documentary was shown at festivals in India in the late 1990s, she adds.
Before Louis Malle, another great European director angered sections of the Indian establishment, and it had nothing to do with his filmmaking.
Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini arrived in India in 1957 to shoot what came to be known as India 57 (also known as India: Matru Bhumi). “Rossellini had planned to make a film in which, through several episodes, he would show how a newly liberated, vast country like India, with an ancient civilisation and culture, was coming to terms with problems of development and modernization without losing its tradition and culture," Mulay writes.
The four-episode documentary, which was completed in 1959, was a collaboration between Rossellini and the Films Division of India, which contributed technicians and assistants to the project. Among the 50 year-old director’s local interpreters was filmmaker Harisadhan Dasgupta, who asked his 27-year-old wife, to help Rossellini with the documentary script. The affair that developed between Rossellini and Sonali Dasgupta led to an uproar in the press and demands by Harisadhan Dasgupta that the Nehru government cancel Rossellini’s visa. Sonali and Rossellini left India and were married in Italy later that year. The taint of having run off with a married woman leached onto India 57, which has been rarely screened in a country that Rossellini admired for its non-violent freedom movement.
9 Hours to Rama
Stanley Wolpert’s 1962 novel Nine Hours to Rama, a fictional reconstruction of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, was banned in India because of a perceived insult to the Mahatma and alleged soft-pedalling of the motives of his assassin, Nathuram Godse. Mark Robson’s 1963 adaptation of the book, titled 9 Hours to Rama, suffered the same fate. The movie has foreigners in most of the main parts (German actor Horst Buchcholz plays Godse, for instance).
City of Joy
Roland Joffe’s adaptation of Dominique Lapierre’s novel of the same name features Om Puri and Shabana Azmi as slum dwellers in Kolkata and Patrick Swayze as the bleeding-heart American doctor who leaves behind his cushy life to lift the poor out of their misery. The anger of the Bengali upper classes at having the city's underbelly depicted on foreign screens was matched by street-level violence when protestors disrupted the shooting in Kolkata in February, 1991. A sessions court banned the shoot, and Joffe and his team could resume production only after the Kolkata High Court struck down the order.
Such a Long Journey
Canadian director Sturla Gunarsson’s 1998 movie based on Rohinton Mistry’s celebrated novel of the same name was shot in Mumbai, featuring an Indian cast (including Roshan Seth as the lead character Gustad Noble), and an Indian screenplay writer (Sooni Taraporevala). But it nevertheless managed to irk the Central Board of Film Certification. Set in the early seventies in Indira Gandhi’s India, the book and the movie track Noble’s misadventures as he battles domestic disappointments and gets recruited by an intelligence agent to assist the East Bengal freedom movement. The CBFC gave the film an Adult certificate, imposed 16 cuts to several political references, and also objected on the ground of animal cruelty to a sequence in which a chicken is held by its legs.
Mistry’s novel, which was written in 1991, faced unofficial censorship in 2010 after Shiv Sena youth wing head Aditya Thackeray objected to its depiction of the Maharashtrian community. The Thackeray scion’s campaign ensured that Such a Long Journey was dropped from the University of Mumbai’s reading list.
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