In January 2017, thousands of citizens gathered on Marina beach in Chennai to protest the Supreme Court ban on the bull-taming sport of jallikattu. Bowing to immense public pressure, the Tamil Nadu Assembly amended the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to allow jallikattu less than a week after the protests.

A film that captures the protests is coming up for a release after screenings in Canada and Norway and a seven-month battle with the Indian censor board. MS Raj’s fiction-documentary hybrid Marina Puratchi was granted a U certificate earlier this month.

Marina Puratchi was stalled after the non-profit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued notices to Raj for allegedly making defamatory statements about the organisation in his interviews about the film. The matter was taken up by a Central Board of Film Certification revising committee. Meanwhile, Raj filed a case in the Madras High Court, which worked in his favour.

Alongside using two fictional communication students and archival footage of the protests in Chennai and Alanganallur near Madurai, Marina Puratchi profiles 18 young people who rallied and mobilised protestors. MS Raj, a first-time filmmaker who has assisted Tamil director Cheran, says he was inspired by Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), about the George W Bush presidency and the impact of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Excerpts from an interview.

What was the starting point of ‘Marina Puratchi’?
The jalikkattu protest in Marina reached its peak in January 2017. But the fire had started to build up back in December 2016 – 22,000 people joined without the backing of any political party or celebrity on January 8. On January 16, Alanganallur witnessed a huge protest too, which began spreading across Tamil Nadu.

The anti-Hindi agitations had happened in 1954, and were backed by a huge political party. But this kind of self-made uprising with no backing had never happened in Tamil Nadu before. How did this happen? I started questioning myself.

This was a unique protest because it was non-violent. There were no caste, religion or language issues. We do not have extensive documentation of the anti-Hindi agitations. I did not want the same fate for the jallikattu protests.

Marina Puratchi. Courtesy MS Raj.

How did you go about your investigation?
There are a lot of undisclosed truths behind these protests. But we only read about the lies.

I went to Alanganallur in January, and was also involved in the Marina protests. We kept shooting the protests as and when they happened. I visited Alanganallur once again for my research. There were around 18 young men and women who began the protests. I tracked down these people and interviewed them. I cross-checked their contributions through videos and footage, and it all checked out. You would not have seen their names anywhere. They are the silent heroes.

Is ‘Marina Puratchi’ a documentary or a feature film?
The film has equal parts documentary and fiction. The film is told through two visual communication students who investigate the protests. Fahrenheit 9/11 is an investigative documentary. I wanted to present the same format through fiction.

Marina Puratchi is not your regular film. We have the real names of celebrities and politicians. This is also why the censor board stalled the film’s release twice.

Tell us about your dealings with the Central Board of Film Certification and your decision to file a case in the Madras High Court.
Once I finished the film, I gave interviews about PETA’s contribution to the jallikattu issue. PETA sent me a notice in September 2018, warning me not to talk about them in the future. I sent the film to the censor board soon after that, but on October 3, the board did not certify the film. I was not given any reason.

Without my permission, the film went to a revising committee. They told me that they could not give a certificate because the film used real names. I showed the revising committee my sources and evidence, but they refused to take a look. They then sent it to a second revising committee.

I filed a case in the Madras High Court in December. I initially wanted the film to be released during Pongal in January. The film had already been screened in many countries, including Canada, Norway and the US. Canada issued a censor certificate for the film, which I produced in court.

The court directed the censor board to take a decision within seven days. After the ruling, a second revising committee suggested a U certificate. But the censor board repeatedly stalled the certification process, and it took me nearly three-and-a-half months to get the certificate.

Marina Puratchi. Courtesy MS Raj.

What were the cuts and modifications suggested by the board?
I was asked to mute the word PETA. There are lakhs of videos that speak about PETA’s involvement in the issue. Why are they targeting my film? Nobody has an answer for this.

The censor board also wanted me to remove all the scenes that says “mathiya arasu”, or Central government. They agreed to let the film be by muting the words “mathiya arasu. The word PETA too has been muted. Instead, we say “one animal welfare organisation”.

What do you want people to take away from your film?
As Vladimir Lenin said, if you do not interfere in politics, politics will interfere in your life. The protests was not just about jallikattu. It was a way for people to express their frustrations. Its impact is still being felt in Tamil Nadu. That is apparent through the Sterlite protests, the Pollachi case or the NEET protests.

If the government fulfills the needs of the people, there is no need for protests, is there?

The Marina protests.