The director of one of three films denied screening permission at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram has filed a petition in the Kerala High Court against the ministry’s decision. Kathu Lukose’s March March March examines student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “I have filed the petition at the High Court this morning,” Lukose told Scroll.in. “I’d like to stick to the legal recourse first. Meanwhile, we are also organising public screenings of the film.”
The other two proscribed films are The Unbearable Being of Lightness by PN Ramachandra and In the Shade of Fallen Chinar by NC Fazil and Shawn Sebastian. Ramachandra’s film, about the aftermath of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad Central University, has uploaded his film for free viewing on Vimeo. In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, which comprises interviews with students at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, has been on YouTube for months.
On June 13, Lukose appealed for funds to pay for the court proceedings in a Facebook post. By June 14, she had raised the money.
The annual International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala is organised by the Chalachitra Academy, which is supported by the state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The academy organises the IDSFKK as well as the prestigious International Film Festival of Kerala every year. The I&B Ministry’s clearance of selected titles is mandatory for any film festival in India. The ministry also allows the titles to be screened without censorship.
The ministry’s unusually strong reaction to the three films is being attributed to the fact that all of them are about student protests against government high-handedness, insensitivity and censorship. A protest letter signed by 160 filmmakers from across the country calls the ban “draconian”. The letter, addressed to I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, states:
“A brief perusal of the themes of the films denied screening – the suicide of research scholar Rohit Vemula, on artists in Kashmir, and on the student protests at JNU – indicates that each one of these films is dealing with prominent political issues that have led to much discussion within the country. It is also clear that the government of the day is resorting to draconian action to stifle all such political debate and indeed Article 19 of our constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression to every citizen of this country. We also note that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has not given any reason for its withholding of screening permission.”
The film festival kicks off on June 16 and runs until June 20. The Students’ Federation of India will screen two of the three films at over 150 campuses across Kerala during the festival week as a form of protest.