The atmosphere in the office of Saroj Entertainment, a production company in Mumbai, was strangely calm on Saturday as the executive producer approved printing orders for the tri-coloured posters of their explosive new film.
Sunil Singh’s debut feature Game of Ayodhya is an inter-faith love story of a Hindu journalist and a Muslim woman, set against the backdrop of the Ramjanmbhoomi agitation that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992. “Ayodhya is the auspicious city of Lord Ram, but the government has made it a battleground,” Singh told Scroll.in. “The film is a docu-drama, a love story. Hindus and Muslims love each other in the country, but people govern the country in the name of dharma.”
The movie stars the director in the lead role alongside Arun Bakshi, Abhay Bhargava and Makrand Deshpande, and is aiming for a December 15 release.
Game of Ayodhya was originally supposed to have been released on December 8, two days after the 25th anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6. A measure of the sensitivity of the subject was provided on Sunday, when members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Hindu Jagran Manch vandalised Singh’s house in Aligarh.
Hindu Jagran Manch Uttar Pradesh secretary Sanju Bajaj is going solely by the trailer. “It has been shown that there was no temple at the site and idols were placed later,” he told The Indian Express. The activists have also threatened to burn down cinemas that screen the movie. This isn’t the first threat the production has faced, and it may not be the last.
Singh’s research included the Liberhan Commission report, which was critical of the manner in which the Uttar Pradesh government allowed the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal to plan and execute the demolition. The movie includes stock footage of the riots that broke out before and after the demolition across India as well as inflammatory speeches by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh.
“Unlike a typical Bollywood film, it is a film with a mission,” said Arun Bakshi, who plays a Muslim librarian. “The film is a tribute to the unknown people who died [during the riots]. It is also a critique on why the ruckus was created and why people followed their leaders.”
The release of the trailer prompted threats from Amit Goswami, an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader from Aligarh, who announced a bounty of Rs one lakh for anyone who chopped off Sunil Singh’s hands.
The Central Board of Film Certification refused to certify Game of Ayodhya, observing that its provocative theme could fuel communal tensions. In October, the producers approached the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, which cleared the movie with a U/A certificate and no cuts.
Singh said that he had expected setbacks from the first day of the shoot itself. “If people are unsettled by the film, then there is something in the film,” he said. “If people are saying things against us, then it means that we have raised some questions and people have a right to know what these questions are. Let the truth come out. Why are you trying to bury the truth?” The filmmaker was careful not to reveal any more about the film’s plot or his stand on the subject.
The director said he was prepared to move the Supreme Court if his film was stalled further. “A lot of these people have been making fools out of people,” Singh said. “So obviously when the film gets released and the truth comes out, the leaders are scared the country will start to hate them.”
The movie was shot in Lucknow under the fake title Game of Power to guard against protests and attacks. “Our country is a democratic country,” Bakshi said. “But if this keeps happening, we should stop making films. Sunil Singh’s next project is even more explosive. But he has to make it, as he has to be truthful and continue making films.” He didn’t reveal what this explosive project is.