New Delhi, Aug. 28: The censor board has refused to certify a documentary film on the 2014 election campaign in Varanasi, where Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal were the star rivals, saying it “pokes fun” at Modi.
One clip that apparently raised the red flag was a reference by an Independent candidate to a “56-inch” chest – a yardstick set by Modi on the campaign trail on what it takes to run the country.
The feature-length film titled Battle for Benaras, directed by national award winner Kamal Swaroop had come up for the approval at the board on Thursday.
The film – documenting poll rallies and public speeches given by several candidates from the constituency – was rejected as the seven-member examining committee of the Central Board of Film Certification felt its content showed “Modi in a bad light and mocked him”.
The committee members, who were drawn from the advisory panel by chief censor Pahlaj Nihalani, told the producers that “such a film had no chance in the revising committee even if the filmmakers reapply for a review as its theme was not acceptable”. The film was produced by Medient Studios, a US-India joint film company.
Swaroop said he was “shocked” at the “outright rejection of the film as it had no political commentary or interviews”.
“In the film, all I tried to do was to capture the festivity that an election in India brings and I chose Varanasi because it promised the most interesting fight,” he told The Telegraph.
“The documentary is about the election rhetoric, promises, accusations, counter-accusations and the media coverage that any poll in India brings,” Swaroop said. “This is not derogatory to anybody at all.”
The filmmaker, whose non-fiction film Rangbhoomi on the life and work of Dadasaheb Phalke had won a national award last year, is set to approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. “I had based the film entirely on the candidates’ and other politicians’ addresses, meetings and their interactions with voters without adding any analysis or perspective – so it is bizarre why such a compilation should be banned by the censor board,” said Swaroop.
An executive from the production unit who was present during the film’s screening yesterday said that among other things that the board members objected to, one was a clip showing an Independent transgender candidate Kamla
Kinnar in which she says she has a “chest wider than Modi’s 56 inch”.
During the poll campaign in 2014, Modi, then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, had repeatedly said it would require a person with a “56-inch chest” to govern India.
“They also had issues with some candidates from the Congress and the Samajwadi Party taking jibes at Modi for separating from his wife Jashodaben and said that now that Modi is Prime Minister, the public cannot be shown a film that glorifies his opponents,” the executive said.
Nihalani said that though he had not watched the film, the members of the committee told him it was “pro-Kejriwal”.
“It looks like this film portrays Modiji in poor light and I think it is anti-government to do so,” said Nihalani who has earlier directed clips and songs in praise of the Prime Minister.
Some senior board members felt that the denial of certification showed the “state of affairs” under Nihalani.
“From what I have gathered about the film, it is totally an apolitical account of the poll campaign and I see no reason why it should be labelled ‘anti-national’ or derogatory towards somebody,” said Nandini Sardesai. “Although I am a board member myself and should be assigned films for review, I hardly get called. Most of the revising committees are chaired by the chairman himself and in the examining committees he handpicks people who toe his line.”
The film was shot over a 40-day period during April and May last year and has already been screened at the Montreal Film Festival. The producers said that though they had initially planned a theatrical release in select cities in India –which is a rare in caseof documentary films — they will now target it for audiences in Europe and the US.
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