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Dear Censor Board, stop shoving sanskaar down our throat

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha was refused a censor certificate for being “lady oriented” and exploring women’s sexual fantasies.

A still from Lipstick Under My Burkha

Alankrita Shrivastava’s film Lipstick Under My Burkha is not the first victim of the Censor Board’s snip-happy tendencies. From bra shots in Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif-starrer Baar Baar Dekho to lines like “I have the Indian figure” in Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has repeatedly resorted to chopping off whatever it deems un-sanskaari.

As for Lipstick Under My Burkha, Alankrita’s film has been denied a certificate because “the story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life.” To give you some context, the film tells the story of the sexual awakening of four women (their ages ranging from a teenage college girl to a 55-year-old widow) in Bhopal, who want to break the barriers of the patriarchal society and explore their inner selves. Ratna Pathak Shah’s voiceover in the film’s trailer tells you what the film is all about – “Khandar se ghar ke ek bandh kamre mein Rosy qaid thi… Apne jawaan rangeen armaano ke saath bilkul akeli. (In a dingy room of the old house, Rosy was trapped… Alone with her racy dreams and desires)”

But for the CBFC, sex is that-dark-deed-which-must-not-be-named. And a film on women’s sexuality? How dare you! According to a report in The Times Of India, the 2015 film Badmashiyan faced a bizarre instance of censorship – in a scene where the girl files a complaint of molestation, the words “hum-bistri” had to be muted from her dialogue. The baffling part is that the CBFC had no objection to the same words, when used by the guy.

The CBFC’s reasoning shows the way they think – “lady oriented” films dealing with their fantasies must be locked into a box and thrown into the depths of the ocean, never to be even accidentally stumbled upon. Although it is not really the CBFC, but one man – CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani.

Nihalani has often been accused of forcibly passing his dictatorial decisions off as the call of the Censor Board. But as member Ashoke Pandit’s tweet would show, the decision is not unanimous. “I condemn the denial of #CensorCertificate to @prakashjha27’s film #LipstickUndermyBurkha. Its an act of arrogance by Pahalaj Nihalani (sic),” he tweeted this morning, outraged by the CBFC’s decision to deny Lipstick Under My Burkha a certificate. Nihalani has been shoving sanskaar down our throats for a long time; and even James Bond was not spared. Remember how Daniel Craig’s kiss with Monica Bellucci in 2015’s Spectre was snipped by half?

In an interview with The Hindu in 2015, Nihalani had openly taken on the role of the moral police and said that he does not mind being conservative if his actions are in the “interests of the nation”. “I will give the right kind of content. I will monitor the sensitive things that might harm the society,” he had said, adding, “In the name of modern, we can’t barter our country. We can’t sell our culture.” In the interview, Nihalani self-appoints himself as a guardian of our culture, arguing that youngsters will get a wrong impression if they are exposed to films which do not have, as he calls it, “the right kind of content”. One wonders if that was the rationale behind allowing films like Mastizaade and Great Grand Masti to have a smooth release. Or allowing kisses galore in Befikre because the protagonists are Indians in Paris who do not reflect our sanskaar.

According to The Cinematograph Act, “a film shall not be certified for public exhibition, if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the States, friendly relations with foreign State, public order, decency or morality or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence”. Given that “decency” and “morality” are subjective terms with no set standards, who decides what is unacceptable?

In fact, a report prepared by the Mudgal Committee appointed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to “examine the issues of certification under the Cinematograph Act 1952,” admits that there can never be watertight or rigid guidelines for certifying a film. It’s the context that is of more relevance. “The courts have over the years attempted to grapple, with little success one might add, to give precise meanings to terms such as morality, obscenity and excessive violence etc. These are concepts which are incapable of surgically precise definitions and interpretation of such terms will vary from person to person.”

Keeping this in mind, the entire concept of censorship becomes redundant. Films have fought a bitter battle against the censors and won. 89 cuts were suggested for Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor-starrer Udta Punjab, including the removal of the word Punjab from its title. The Bombay High Court overturned the directive and told the CBFC that its job was to certify, not censor.

And with all the piracy and easy access to the internet, it isn’t effective, anyway.

To give Lipstick Under My Burkha an ‘A’ certificate is understandable, but to ban it altogether is patently unconstitutional. And ridiculous, to say the least.

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Award Winning film on Gender Equality ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ BLOCKED by censor board #WTFnews

 Lipstick Under My Burkha has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
 Prakash Jha, Prakash Jha Lipstick under my burkha, Prakash jha film denied CBFC certificate, No certificate for Prakash Jha’s Lipstick under my burkha, Konkana Sen, Rathna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Lipstick under my burkha,Award winning film Lipstick Under My Burkha produced by Prakash Jha was denied certification by CBFC.Lipstick Under My Burkha stars exemplary actors like Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur. The film directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha had earlier received the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and Spirit of Asia Prize at Tokyo International Film Festival. The film will also be screened on February 24, 2017, at the Glasgow Film Festival. It is being applauded for the content and clear prosecution by everybody, except the Central Board of Film Certification.

That’s right. The movie has been denied release in the country because ‘the story is lady oriented and their fantasy above life’. It is unclear how the CBFC concluded that women wanting freedom, or cursing or even exploring their sexuality as a ‘fantasy’. There are ‘contanious sexual scenes and abusive words, audio pornography, and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society [sic]’.

Watch Video| WHAT?! CBFC Denies Certification To ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ For Being ‘Lady Oriented’


A simple plot about four women from different walks of life, living in a small town — exploring their sexuality and seeking freedom has been denied under certain guidelines like 1(i), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i). In layman’s terms, the guidelines are that human sensibilities should not be offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity, scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided and if such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown, scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are also not presented.

Enraged Prakash Jha, who spoke to Mirror, said, “As a country we must encourage freedom of expression but the CBFC refusing to certify films that tell uncomfortable stories discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope. Films should challenge the status quo which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it.”

More from the world of Entertainment:

Also read | House panel questions delay in granting CBFC certificates to films

The Bollywood fraternity has also shown its support to the film. Actor Farhan Akhtar took to Twitter and wrote, “Below is the reason CBFC listed for denying #LipstickUnderMyBurkha a release. Keep your barf bag ready..” Pooja Bhatt has also said, “CBFC consists of frightened people, only interested in securing their jobs.They won’t take a stand & are happy if one approaches revising com.”

See | Celebrities show their support for Lipstick Under My Burkha

The director, Alankrita Shrivastava is currently in Glasgow, for the Glasgow Film Festival. She also tweeted the official letter they received from CBFC and finds it ironic that an award winning film is denied certification.

See | Alankrita’s Tweets

How a woman living her life on her terms, when filmed from the perspective of a woman is degrading other women is a concept that we as mere citizens, who also happen to be women might not understand. However, we have the CBFC to thank for beautifully pointing this out and for forcing us to miss, what might as well be the movie of the year.

The examining committee of the CBFC refused to certify Jha’s latest film, Lipstick Under My Burkha citing multiple reasons including abusive language and “women’s fantasies”. “The story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society,” reads the letter from the CBFC.

The Censor Board's notice refusing certification, signed by the regional officer. It was published on an independent blog.

The Censor Board’s official notice signed by the regional officer. Credit: moifightclub, published on an independent blog.

Lipstick Under My Burkha features actors Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plait Borthakur. Set in small-town India, it chronicles the secret lives of four women trying to cull out a sense of freedom amid numerous constraints. Director Alankrita Shrivastava, who is currently at the Glasgow Film Festival for the premiere of the film on February 24 said that CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani had watched the film with the Revising Committee after which she was called in and informed that the committee unanimously decided to not certify the film. “It’s a feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy. I think that’s why they don’t want to certify it. As a filmmaker, I stand by the story and will fight for it till the end,” she asserted

Early last year, after the Examining Committee had failed to arrive at a consensus on the certification of his cop-drama, Jai Gangaajal, featuring Priyanka Chopra, Prakash Jha had approached the Revising Committee which had offered him a ‘U/A’ certificate with 11 cuts, which included editing out cuss words like ‘saala’ and ‘ghanta’ which the filmmaker argued were a part of everyday conversations in the hinterlands. He refused to comply with the diktats and appealed to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) that passed the film with a U/A certificate and no cuts. The National Award-winner’s battle with the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) continues.

In January 2017, Jha’s new production, Lipstick Under My Burkha, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, was screened for the Censor Board’s Examining Committee and Jha was informed that the film cannot be certified. The reasons stated in a letter read: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines 1(a), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i).”

An enraged Jha who is presently in London, told Mirror, “As a country we must encourage freedom of expression but the CBFC refusing to certify films that tell uncomfortable stories discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope. Films should challenge the status quo which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it.”

Set in small town India, the film featuring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, chronicles the secret lives of four women in search of a little freedom. Alankrita, who is at the Glasgow Film Festival for the film’s premiere on February 24, informs that CBFC Chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani had watched the film with the Revising Committee after which she was called in and told that they had unanimously decided to not certify the film. “It’s a feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy. I think that’s why they don’t want to certify it. As a filmmaker, I stand by the story and will fight for it till the end,” she asserts.

Lipstick Under My Burkha has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Alankrita, who assisted Jha on Raajneeti and Apaharan before turning director with his Turning 30!!! adds that they are waiting for the official letter from the Revising Committee after which they will apply to FCAT. “I am travelling to some more festivals and hopefully I will have a hearing by the time I return in March,” she says.

Nihalani when contacted said he did not wish to comment on the subject after the Board had unanimously refused to clear it. When it was pointed out that the official letter from the Revising Committee has yet to reach Jha, he said shortly, “It’s the producer’s job to get it from the office.” Earlier, the CBFC had objected to the premise of the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer Haraamkhor which touched on a teacher-student illicit romance, refusing to certify it. The makers approached the FCAT which cleared the film with a ‘U/A’ certificate.


While Lipstick Under My Burkha may face censorship in India, it has already earned accolades at the Mumbai Film Festival (movies screened there do not require a Censor certificate) and at festivals abroad.

It won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at MAMI while winning the Spirit of Asia award at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Here’s the film’s trailer which features Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, and Plabita Borthakur in leading roles.

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Tamil actress Varalaxmi Sarathkumar speaks out about sexual harassment in film industry #Vaw

We’re told not to speak about it’: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar blows the lid off the casting couch

Speaking to TNM, Varalaxhmi said that the casting couch has been a feature since the dawn of time in the industry.
Facebook/ Varalaxmi Sarathkumar

Following the shocking news of abduction and alleged rape of a popular Malayalam actor, several people from the film fraternity have been voicing their concern about women’s safety. However, not many have spoken up about the gender disparity and sexual exploitation that is part of the male dominant film industry.

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, actor and daughter of veteran Sarathkumar, tweeted her unsavoury experience of the casting couch in the industry to blow the lid off the silence.

In her tweet, she spoke about the programming head of a leading TV channel who’d made suggestive comments towards her, insinuating that she’d have to bestow sexual favours on him if he were to continue the work relationship.

Varalaxmi also mentioned how inured people – within the industry and outside of it – are to the casting couch. “Film industry is like this. You knew so when you joined. Why complain nor or act surprised” is their attitude, the actor wrote.

Speaking to The News Minute, Varalaxmi said that she was tired of pushing things under the carpet.

“I was so taken aback when this man asked me that, I didn’t know whether to punch him or feel sorry for him that he’s not even aware that he can’t speak to a woman like this. He said it with such ease and confidence. He didn’t flinch or cringe even a little bit,” she says.

Varalaxmi adds that if this was the situation for her, someone who comes from a film family with political connections, it struck her how bad things must be for other women in the industry.

Why don’t more people speak up against the casting couch though?

“Everybody is ashamed of it,” Varlaxmi asserts. “They don’t want to admit the things they have to do to get work. And half of them don’t have the choices that I or few others have. Things like this are hushed up and we’re taught not to talk about it. They say it will tarnish your image. So, when they say all this, no woman is going to come out and tell these stories. You may hear of it happening to a friend’s friend’s friend but the actual victim never says anything.”

Varalaxmi strongly believes that voicing these issues is the way ahead.

“I started this because I want women to know that it’s all right to talk about it. They’re not the ones who have to be ashamed. It’s the other way round,” she says.

Is the sexual harassment of female actors something she feels the Nadigar Sangam should take up? Some time ago, an actor called Aditi was allegedly brutalized by her director and even attempted suicide but nothing much happened.

“This has nothing to do with the Nadigar Sangam,” says Varalaxmi. “This is about what happens to women all over the country. There are thousands of women who face the exact same thing in thousands of other professions. If not worse. What I’m standing up for is not just for women in this industry but for women everywhere.”

Varalaxmi, however, acknowledges the inherent misogyny in the film industry.

“These things have been happening here since the dawn of time,” she says. “Whether women do it or men do it, it’s all hushed up. We’re conditioned not to speak about it. So, you can’t try and change what’s been happening for 100 years of cinema overnight. That’s why people take it so easily…she’s a heroine? She’s supposed to sleep with you! These people just don’t get it. They’ve been seeing this generation after generation and they don’t understand why you can’t accept it.”

Varalaxmi notes that celebrities may not share these stories because they want to get on with their personal lives and not make these unpleasant experiences come in their way.

Citing the example of director Suraj who made offensive comments about heroines, Varalaxmi says, “Look at the confidence with which he spoke! That is the kind of mindset you have to change and you can’t do that overnight.”

Despite the uproar around Suraj’s comments, there was deafening silence from the male stars of the industry, many of whom have been actively speaking about political issues on social media.

“A few stars do speak up but the rest are all cowards,” says Varalaxmi with disarming honesty. “They’d rather be diplomatic. They never like to get their feet wet or their hands dirty.”

However, Varalaxmi clarifies that the entire film industry is not like this. “I’ve worked with some very lovely people who’ve never made such advances at me. So, you can’t generalise the entire industry. It’s about how we portray ourselves and what we say yes or no to.”

Asked about the film industry’s contribution to the objectification of women, Varalaxmi says, “That again has been happening forever. But things are changing. There are actors like Vidya Balan, Priyamani…who do substantial work and are brilliant actors. There are people like me who say no to these things. Change will not happen overnight as I’ve been saying. It has to start somewhere.”

Varalaxmi says that after she tweeted about her experience, several female actors (the A-listers like Trisha, Tamannaah etc are yet to respond) have written to her, thanking her for standing up for all of them.

“I want to do something more about this. I want to study the laws and find out what more can be done. This is just the beginning,” she avers.

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Punjabi Film On Dalit Struggle To Be Shown In Cannes 2017 Short Film Corner

 ‘Chamm’ brings Dalit community’s struggle alive on silver screen

CHANDIGARH – The struggle of the Dalits to get their right has reached the international podium as a Punjabi feature film on land struggle of Dalits got entry into the Cannes Film Festival.



Amritsar, February 13: While raising issues of Dalit community with his independent film ‘Chamm’, director Rajiv Kumar of ‘Nabar’ fame has once again managed to prove that quality Punjabi cinema will find audience. Holding special screenings of his film across major cities in Punjab, Rajiv’s ‘Chamm’ received rousing response from the intelligentsia in Amritsar as it was screened at Virsa Vihar.

‘Chamm’, meaning chamdi (skin), is based on a short story by writer Bhagwant Rasulpuri. It presents the story of a Dalit protagonist, who works at the local village slaughter house and skins dead animals.“The film is a novel experiment to reach out to audience instead of waiting for them to come to cinema halls. Made independently, the film is a joint collaboration between a group of theatre artistes and my close friends.

Chamm (skin) is about the struggle of Dalits of Punjab, who are struggling to get their one-third share in the village common land. The 35-minute film will be screened in “2017 Short Film Corner” at the Cannes between May 22 and 28.

It doesn’t show characters in black and white, but has different layers. Like a young village girl, who is a doctor and stands besides the community in their struggle against atrocities and some local villagers, who belong to upper castes and support Dalits in their demand for equal position in society.”Apart from the plight of the Dalit community, the film also talks about drug abuse and the economical struggle of the rural folk.

Rajeev, director of the film, said: “It is an independent and self-funded film which is about inner defeat and victory.”

He said they had developed an alternative distribution system for the film by screening it free of cost in villages and small towns.

Rajeev, who hails from Mullanpur and now based in Mumbai, started his career as a filmmaker in 1994 with a documentary “Aapna Pash”, which was based on the life of revolutionary poet Pash.

Earlier, his film “Nabar” won the National Award in 2012 in the best Punjabi feature film category. National award winning actor Baljinder Kaur also features in the film.

Struggle of rural landless Dalits to reclaim one-third share in the village common land is going on for almost nine years in around 70 villages of Sangrur and Mansa.


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Open letter by Anushka Sharma slams every report claiming Virat Kohli produced “Phillauri”


Actor Anushka Sharma has hit out at reports claiming that cricketer Virat Kohli has produced “Philauri”, the second movie from her home production.

In an open letter that she posted on social media, the “Band Baaja Baaraat” actor said that such reports only disrespect her and her hard work.

Stating that Phillauri is produced by Fox Star Hindi and Clean Slate Films, Anushka wrote, “So those TV channels/newspapers/websites claiming anything else, please check facts, practice responsible journalism and have some shame. By making such bogus claims and validating this rubbish by your so called ‘source’, not only are you disrespecting me and the hard work I have put in over the years to be where I am, but also, all the people who have worked on this film.”

She said that while freedom of press comes with accountability, “your fake sources are never accounted for.” slamming such reports, Anushka wrote, “For someone who makes a living out of maligning people, it must definitely be hard to believe that a person can stand on their own feet and do something meaningful with their life.”

“And next time the same people come wanting to talk about ‘women empowerment’ and ‘women in films today’, do remember this is what you do to ‘women in films’ who are trying to change the narrative and take charge of their own careers,” she added.

“This must be just another story for you but it’s someone’s life you are toying with. I am more than capable of producing and promoting my own films. Thank you,” she concluded.

Sharma runs Clean Slate Films with her brother Karnesh Sharma and their first production was the critically acclaimed “NH10”.

“Phillauri”, which also features Anushka with Suraj Sharma and Diljit Dosanjh, is directed by Anshai Lal. Anushka plays a ghost in the film.

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UTA protests Trump Muslim ban by canceling Oscar party and donating $250,000 to ACLU

-United Talent Agency protests Trump Muslim ban by canceling Oscar party and donating $250,000 to ACLU

UTA client Bryan Cranston is a regular at the mega-agency's Oscar party.

UTA client Bryan Cranston is a regular at the mega-agency’s Oscar party.


Hollywood just handed civil rights lovers a big boost.Officials at United Talent Agency are so outraged by President Trump’s Muslim ban that the agency has scrapped its annual pre-Oscar party and instead will donate $250,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Rescue Committe.

The party — typically attended by hundreds of tinseltown’s brightest stars including UTA clients like Bryan Cranston, Mark Ruffalo, Alicia Vikander and filmmakers Ethan and Joel Coen — was held last year at the $11 million, 7,125-square-foot mansion owned by UTA chairman and mega-agent Jim Berkus.

Comic Sarah Silverman, a UTA client, won't be partying at her agency's annual pre-Oscar party, but she might attend the pro-immigration rally the company is holding instead.

Comic Sarah Silverman, a UTA client, won’t be partying at her agency’s annual pre-Oscar party, but she might attend the pro-immigration rally the company is holding instead.


In place of the party, UTA will sponsor an pro-immigration rally “to express the creative community’s growing concern with anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States,” agency officials said.

The Feb. 24, planned for two days before the Oscars, is meant to combat the “potential chilling effect on the global exchange of ideas and freedom of expression,” UTA officials said.

Not Released (NR)

UTA client Toby Keith won’t be attending his agency’s annual pre-Oscar party — it’s been canceled.


Trump’s shocking immigration ban had a direct impact on UTA — the firm represents Academy Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi who was nominated for another Oscar this year in the best foreign-language film category for “The Salesman.”

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Modi ka Gaon: Censor board refuses to pass feature film on PM

CBFC is worried that the Modi look-alike might stoke a fresh row


First look of Modi Ka Gaon

First look of Modi Ka Gaon

The producer of the medium-budget film, “Modi ka Gaon”, Suresh Jha, who has co-directed it with Tushar A. Goel, is crying foul and charged the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) with discriminating against a movie due for release on Friday.

officials informed us they found the film objectionable on three main counts. There is no way I can release it tomorrow (Friday). So I am considering moving the court,” Jha told IANS.

“They have stipulated conditions which are so difficult to comply with that I might as well forget about releasing the film.

“The golden solution: ‘Get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Election Commission… I think this must be the first time the PMO or are expected to preview a film and clear it before the certifies it,” Jha said.

The said: “Submit NOC from PMO regarding Prime Minister’s portrayal/references through a character in the film resembles… (The film portrays development plans, references to Pakistan‘s Uri attack, news and speeches related to the PM).”

It has also sought NOC from the “as elections are going on in various parts of the country and the film can be treated as promotional material for political campaigns”.

The board also orally raised the issue of casting Vikas Mahante as Modi — the has objected to the look-alike actor playing the title role, said Jha.

“The film is about Modiji’s development agenda and his vision for transforming the country… How can I possibly portray all this with somebody who does not resemble him? If film-makers have to get clearances from other bodies, then what is the need for ” Jha asked.

He surmised that the is worried that the Modi look-alike might stoke a fresh row, with the opposition parties targeting the for permitting its release.

Mahante’s uncanny resemblance to Modi has made him a crowd puller in his own right and earned him the sobriquet “Modi from Mumbai”.

The has also taken umbrage at a prominent side-character, “Pappu Bihari”, in the film, saying the name should be deleted from the movie, including the songs.

Jha’s much-anticipated 135-minute feature film completed shooting in December. He applied for certification in January.

Emphasising that the film was “not a biopic”, he said he was planning a mega premiere with the Prime Minister himself.

The film was extensively shot in Mumbai, Patna and Darbhanga, detailing Modi’s aim of making all rural and urban centres ‘Smart Villages’ or ‘Smart Cities’.



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Amnesty International releases documentary film “The Cost Of Coal”

Image result for amnesty international cost of coal film

A coal mine in Central India is set to become one of Asia’s largest. At the heart of this aspiration lies the largest democracy’s disregard for consent. Power grids are the umbilical cords linking urban lifestyle to indigenous displacement.


Peering into the depths of the Kusmunda coal mine in Korba, Chhattisgarh, is like staring into an abyss. From the edge, the mine extends endlessly – like a vast city that’s bigger than Central Delhi. And just like a city, the activity and the traffic never cease. Tippers, excavators, and dumpers ply for miles beneath us into the grayscale, queuing up to carry vast burdens of dark earth scooped up from the deepening void.

Kusmunda, operated by a Coal India Limited subsidiary company, is on its way to becoming one of Asia’s biggest coal mines. At peak expansion, Kusmunda, a single mine, would leave a cavity the size of Central Delhi on Chhattisgarh’s map. Twenty-six million tonnes of coal will be mined from its folds every year.

Kusmunda’s expansion is an integral part of the Indian government’s plan to increase its coal production to a whopping one billion tons a year by 2020, to meet growing energy requirements. In the balance are tens of thousands of Adivasi and Dalit families likely to be displaced by the mine, while thousands more stand to be affected.

The four of us — director, film crew, Nirupabai and I — crouch amidst the ruins of demolished homes in the village of Barkuta , in Korba, when the blasting from the mine begins, sending earth and rock from flattened fields and forests into the air. We are asked by those whose houses tremble why the story of India ramping up its coal production at their expense is not explosive enough.

India is the world’s third largest producer and consumer of coal. Last year,around 550 million tonnes were extracted to power our ravenous cities, (some) villages and our fabled economic growth. The WiFi, the smartphone, the air-conditioner, the local train, the factory floor, the stock exchange, the 100W bulb to study under – coal makes most of it possible. Around two-thirds of India’s energy is drawn from this dark mineral, and yet many of us fail to acknowledge its origins.

Unlike many other minerals extracted through mining, coal is physically invisible to us in the everyday. Its impact only presents itself markedly when there is talk of the windfall profit made by a company, or through a gargantuan corruption scandal. The impact of its extraction on native citizens’ lives, however, is obscured out of sight.

Nirupa’s home was bulldozed along with sixteen others for the expansion of the Kusmunda mine, without her consent.
Image Credits: Aruna Chandrasekhar / Amnesty International India

Nirupabai Kawar, from Barkuta, has had to learn the true cost of coal. Nirupa is what the government calls a PAP, or a project-affected-person. She is a Kawar Adivasi and the sole earner in her family of six. Barely nine days after I first met her in January 2014, Nirupa’s home was bulldozed along with sixteen others for the expansion of the Kusmunda mine, without adequate notice or consultation.

I understand that some people must make sacrifices for the nation, but why must it always be us?

The next time we met, in April 2014, there was no trace of the large house overflowing with grain I had seen. Only a squat structure rebuilt from the rubble remained, with a signboard salvaged from a school next door that had pictures of former Prime Ministers pinned on it. The grain, she showed me, was mixed with the rubble. “It rained for a week afterwards, nobody came. I understand that some people must make sacrifices for the nation, but why must it always be us?”

The Fifth Schedule

[th uh . fifth .shed-yool]
The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists certain districts and territories where Adivasi communities live as protected ‘Scheduled Areas’, where these communities have special customary rights over their land.

In interviews with Coal India officials, the standard state justification for the Adivasi displacement seems firmly rooted in karmic geology. “Why would God have put coal in these places if we were not meant to mine?” a senior mining official operating the Kusmunda mines once enquired.

And so to tell you a story about people, we must peel away the sediment and begin with where coal comes from. In India, coal runs as part of a rich seam of sandstone and shale called the Gondwana Supergroup, which extends across the Southern Hemisphere. The seam draws its name from the Gonds, India’s second most populous indigenous Adivasi community, who live across the central Indian plateau, including the villages around Kusmunda.

Some of India’s biggest coalfields are located in densely forested pockets of the country, protected by the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which recognizes the historic and systemic oppression that India’s indigenous Adivasi communities have faced. About 70 per cent of India’s coal is located in the central and eastern states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha, that are also the sites of a decade-long conflict between security forces and Maoist armed groups.

Whether it was settlers from the plains or the British and their demand for timber, the Forest Department or large mining companies, India’s Adivasi communities have had to grapple for centuries with outsiders who had their eye on resources. Adivasis are estimated to comprise about eight per cent of India’s population, but make up about 40 per cent of the people displaced by development projects in India since 1951. That number is around 24 million people, roughly the current population of Australia.

Korba is a case of stark contradictions. A protected Adivasi district, Korba is home to some of the country’s densest Sal forests, and some of its biggest mines that contribute to over a fourth of India’s coal. It has over a dozen thermal power plants, supplying power to the Western grid, including the city of Mumbai and its glistening skyline, and yet is home to some of India’s most disempowered communities.

“In Korba, you’ll find villages that don’t have a single light bulb. Imagine the level of development in a place that provides so much of India’s coal and power,” says Laxmi Chauhan, an environmental activist who has been working with mining-affected communities in Korba for the last decade.

A villager cycles past the radioactive fly ash pond generated by the coal power plant.
Image Credits: Aruna Chandrasekhar / Amnesty International India

Laxmi parks his car at the edge of a small hill, which we learn is a fly-ash pond. For fun, we try moonwalking on this strange, chalk-like sand that feels like it’s part of a gigantic ashtray. We take turns to count the thermal power chimneys that pulse through the haze like modern minarets. Hills of ‘overburden’ earth dominate the topography, shifting as excavators sift the earth for coal. Pipes criss-cross the landscape like industrial entrails, carrying fly-ash over miles to waste ponds that may some day rival these chimneys in height.

Laxmi laughs at our disbelief. “It’s hard to breathe here, isn’t it? Imagine, in such a critically polluted area, there have been no health impact assessments. Look for yourself,” he says, beckoning us to turn the cameras behind him. Monsoon clouds the colour of slate have gathered above the ash dike. The wind has whipped up a blizzard of ash that heads straight for the city below. He tells us of his plan to start a toxic tourism company for gawping researchers and journalists like myself who want to see how ‘development’ can manifest itself in rural India.

Standing where we are, it’s hard to believe that Korba is still home to the Korwa tribe, from which it draws its name, just as it is home to the Kawar, the Binjhwar, the Gond, the Agaria and Rathia.

“This entire place was a jungle. Deer used to walk here, amidst our gods,” said Ramadhar Shrivas, an elder from the village of Pali, as he walked through the deserted, tree-less streets one blazing summer afternoon. “You could not step out here in the evening alone, because of the fear of being trampled by elephants in mast. All of this changed after they found coal here.”

Industrial corridors have replaced elephant corridors, and Korba today is a haphazard collection of townships that have grown and coalesced around its mines, power plants and aluminium smelters. There’s even a Domino’s Pizza outlet.

But in between are vast patches of villages like Pali that lie in a state of suspended acquisition. In the villages here, yellow signposts signal that this land is now the sovereign property of the Ministry of Coal. There is no telling when people in these villages will be adequately compensated or rehabilitated, or when the villages will fall into the dark.


Overburden is the rock, soil and everything that lies over the coal deposit, including fields, streams, habitations and forests.

Say coal mining, and the imagination takes the average urbanite down a dark, underground shaft. But most Indian coal is harvested from large swathes of land. In 2014-15, over 90% of coal production was from “open cast mining” — a practice which involves literally cutting and stripping minerals from the surface of the earth, after trees, vegetation and habitations are removed and broken up by explosives.

For every million tonnes of coal mined, land equivalent to over 564 Olympic swimming pools is dug up and has to be removed. Open cast mines are very land intensive, and can spread over thousands of hectares, depending on the extent of the coal deposit and the availability of cheap land. This kind of mining is done when coal lies close to the surface and where the land that lies over it is relatively thin or easy to remove. The dug up land is referred to as “overburden” in mining parlance.

“You cannot move the deposit, but you can definitely remove the people,” remarked a Coal India official.

One half of Barkuta lay flattened, festooned with explosive wires, the ground perforated in places where dynamite would be placed.
Image Credits: Aruna Chandrasekhar / Amnesty International India

In March 2015, I went back to look for Nirupa’s house in Barkuta. A tyre mark of an excavator marked where we had first met. One half of Barkuta lay flattened, festooned with explosive wires, the ground perforated in places where dynamite would be placed.

In Barkuta today, only three families remain. Families live amidst the ruins, as they wait for Godot — in this case, jobs, compensation and rehabilitation that they haven’t yet received, decades after their lands were acquired without their consent. Nirupa has rebuilt a tiny hut on the edge of the mine, to stake her last claim on her father’s land, as the mine edge draws nearer.

Public Purpose

[puhb-lik . pur-pus es]
Land acquisition for mining under the Coal Bearing Areas Act allows for companies to acquire people’s land without their consent.

Coal India Limited (CIL) – the world’s largest coal producer (which all Indians are in a way shareholders of) produces about 82 per cent of India’s coal. This coal is supplied at discounted prices to nearly every thermal power plant in India. Coal India, and other public sector companies, such as the National Thermal Power Corporation, can acquire land in the ‘national interest’ using an archaic law that dates back to 1957 called the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act.

“We’ve gone from being masters of our land to being slaves at the mercy of Coal India,” says Abhiram Singh, whose home was bulldozed in the evictions in Barkuta. In the blazing summer of 2014, I found him working in a make-shift brick kiln, forging bricks to build a new home in the neighbouring village of Padaniya. The bricks under our feet were being fired from the coal that he had to steal from the Kusmunda mine that displaced him. Irony, in these parts, runs dark and unforgiving. Abhiram has never seen a copy of the notification under the Coal Bearing Areas Act from 1979, which said that his land had been acquired by the Ministry of Coal. He asks me how much it would cost to rent a place as big as his in Bangalore.

Abhiram Singh had to forge bricks in a make-shift brick kiln after his home was bulldozed.
Image Credits: Aruna Chandrasekhar / Amnesty International India

The fact that this would never play out in the life of the average urban India weighs down like a thousand bricks as I walked through villages around Kusmunda, trying to understand how India’s protective laws around land are failing Adivasis.

What is it that scares so many from looking at consumption in the eye, and the displacement being carried out in their names? What is it about the consent of the disenfranchised that has some people stick their fingers in their ears, and mutter ‘anti-national’ under their breaths?

Instead, in India, the most vulnerable communities are pushed to the brink. In the last two years, the Indian government has repeatedly shut down many of the legally available platforms for Deepak and Nirupa to speak their minds about decisions that could irreversibly impact their lands, lives and environment. Public hearings, required under Indian law for development projects to get a green nod, have been done away with for many kinds of coal mine expansions. The government, in response to the World Bank’s environmental and social safeguards policy, has said that it was not ‘comfortable’ with the idea of indigenous consent.

“I did an MBA in HR and worked with ICICI bank, ma’am. But when I found out that my family was losing so much land, and people were not being given jobs, I had to come back and get involved,” says Deepak Sahu as we sit in a meeting in the village of Raliya. We are surrounded by hundreds of displaced villagers, who want to learn about what legal choices they have left.

The bricks under our feet were being fired from the coal that he had to steal from the Kusmunda mine that displaced him.

26-year old Deepak led a strike in May in Korba this year, where over five thousand people at risk of being forcibly evicted by Coal India’s four expanding mines blocked the dispatch of coal from the mines to the railhead. “We spam the Coal Minister’s Twitter  everyday. But other than stopping production, there is no other way anyone will listen to us.”

International energy agencies predict that India will account for nearly half the increase in world coal consumption from 2012 to 2040, even as major economies like China and the United States move away from coal. The government alone estimates that 50,000 hectares of Adivasi land in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha will be affected by India’s coal expansion plans.

You’d think that these ambitions would be rooted in an assessment of how much coal India actually needs. And yet, at the time of writing, around 40 million tonnes of coal lie piled in Coal India’s stockyards, with no takers. In a recent development, even India’s Central Electricity Authority, stated in its draft National Electricity Plan1 that India didn’t need any new coal-based power plants till 2022 , and that there was sufficient coal from existing mines to supply them.

India’s dependency on coal cannot be denied. But as fellow shareholders in this nation’s energy security, all Indians must push for equal opportunities and rights for those who lose the most from coal mining. Their lands make our lifestyle possible. Their consent must be sought, and their right to refuse the greater common good, respected.

India is officially out of a power crisis. But it has a long way to go before the overburden has been reclaimed, and the playing field leveled for Adivasis and Dalits to truly speak truth to power and be heard.

To explore the exploding coal-mine and fly-ash pond in VR, watch ‘When land is lost, do we eat coal?’, directed by Faiza Khan.

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Hoodlums bullying Bhansali is only the latest example of the state abetting intolerance
Are we fast reaching that point in the world’s largest democracy where freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution is subject to the level of intolerance of any pressure group willing to resort to violence to enforce its writ? This question acquires fresh relevance following the attack on film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali by members of the Rajput Karni Sena ­ the same group that had protested against Ashutosh Gowariker‘s 2008 film Jodhaa Akbar.Bhansali was shooting at the Jaigarh fort near Jaipur for his film on fabled Chittorgarh queen Padmavati.The Karni Sena hoodlums felt that he was portraying `their’ queen Padmavati in an unfavourable light.Hence, its outraged `sainiks’ felt they had the right to slap him and vandalise the set. The film director has decided now not to shoot in Rajasthan.

There has been not a word of condemnation of this incident by chief minister Vasundhara Raje who is, no doubt, aware that the Rajputs are a powerful vote bank. Nor have any of the attackers been arrested. Instead, an unnecessarily contrite Bhansali has meekly clarified that his film does not contain anything that will hurt the sentiments of the Karni Sena.

The Sena was particularly angry about a so-called dream sequence in the film where Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji were to be shown romantically. Both Bhansali and the producers of Padmavati, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, have clarified that there was no such dream sequence in the film to begin with.

But matters have not ended here.Notwithstanding Bhansali’s apologetic clarifications, the Sena has asked that the name of the film be changed, and the final product subjected to a pre-release screening to obtain its clearance. Surendra Jain, general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has dared Bhansali to shoot his film in any other part of the country or to release his film.

Akhilesh Khandelwal, a BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, has gone further. He has issued something akin to a fatwa, where anybody who performs the pious duty of throwing a shoe at Bhansali will be given an award of Rs 10,000. Expectedly, Union minister Giriraj Singh has jumped into the fray by saying that Padmavati was being shown in a bad light only because she was a Hindu.

The fact that stares us in the face is the near abdication of the state.Governments are mandated to maintain law and order, and to protect the citizen from criminal violence or intimidation. But, as we saw earlier in the case of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) threat against Karan Johar’s film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil , the state becomes a complicit spectator.

MNS leader Raj Thackeray issued a firman that multiplexes showing this film will be vandalised because one of the actors, Fawad Khan, was a Pakistani. The threat was issued openly and with impunity. The Maharashtra government, instead of acting immediately against such thuggery, merely twiddled its thumbs.

Secondly, such incidents are notable for the capitulation of the victim.After being slapped around by the Karni Sena, the producers of Padmavati sent a cringing assurance to their tormentors that they would do nothing to hurt their sentiments. No criminal cases were filed or apologies sought. Instead, the best that Bhansali could offer was to say that he will not shoot in Rajasthan.Similarly, Karan Johar was happy to sit with Raj Thackeray and placate him while Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra who is meant to act against those who break the law, smilingly mediated.

While the perpetrator and the victim make their unacceptable compromises, what are the rest of the people supposed to do? Wait for the next act of intimidation and watch the passive culpability of the state? This is a frightening situation. When the first violation is not stringently opposed other groups are emboldened to act similarly, if for nothing else than the disproportionate publicity they get.We saw this in the attacks against Dalits and Muslims by self-anointed gau-rakshaks or cow vigilantes, whose actions seemed too to have implicit state sanction.

Democratic empowerment is leading hitherto quiescent constituencies to question the socially powerful. History has both a conventional chronology and a subaltern perspective. In any case, no one group in the country has an absolute monopoly on historical narratives, and this is best illustrated by multiple versions of the Ramayana.There is, rightfully, a new aggression in matters of gender equality that cannot be swept away by mechanically quoting the past. Change is afoot, and among Muslims too, where many new voices refuse to kowtow to the outdated orthodoxies of mullahs.

When these new contestations take place, challenging the self-righteous hegemony of the powerful, will the state stand up for the law or align itself with the perpetrators? Will those who believe they can use violence to silence those they disagree with continue to go scot-free?
The film fraternity has protested the attack against Bhansali but when, next time, they are subjected to such violent intimidation, will they fight back or tamely capitulate? One thing is certain: the reflex resort to violence by groups like the Karni Sena, emboldened by the cynical collusion of the state, seriously impairs India’s democratic credentials.

The writer is an author and member of JD(U)

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The star of Iran‘s Oscar nominated movie “The Salesman“ said on Thursday she would not attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood next month because of US President Donald Trump‘s proposed ban on immigrants from Muslim nations.Taraneh Alidoosti, 33, a Tehran-born actress, said the move was racist. “Trump’s visa ban for Iranians is racist. Whether this will include a cultural event or not, I won’t attend the #Academy Awards 2017 in protest,“ Alidoosti said on Twitter.

An executive order expec ted to be signed by Trump in coming days will block the entry to the United States of Syrian refugees, and suspend the entry of any immigrants from Muslim-majority countries Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.

`The Salesman’, by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, was nominated on Tuesday for a foreign-language Oscar, and has won prizes at film festivals in Cannes, Chicago and Munich.Alidoosti has also appeared in the popular Iranian TV soap opera “Shahrzad.“ REUTERS

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