When Jayan Cherian sent his debut film Papilio Buddha to the censor board, little did he expect it to ban its screening citing extreme violence and filthy language. He calls the work ‘meditative,’ which has much less violence than mainstream films.
Another major reason cited by the board in its certificate of refusal send to the film’s producer Prakash Bare is alleged visuals and dialogues denigrating Gandhiji. The film-maker sees this refusal as intolerance towards counter-narratives of our accepted history.
“The politics that the film discusses is something which is not accepted in the mainstream. The real Gandhi is lost in the social and political construct of the ruling class. Many of the controversial points of the film like his tryst with homosexuality are mentioned in his own works, but these are filtered out to create a blemish-less personality,” Mr. Cherian told The Hindu over phone from New York.
Reacting to the general criticism that such works portraying Gandhiji negatively are aimed solely at publicity, he says that such criticism reflect the deep ingraining of a Gandhi beyond all criticism in the social psyche. Attempts like this are a part of social analysis, not a way to grab eyeballs, he says.
The controversial part in the movie depicts a satyagraha by a ‘pseudo-Gandhian,’ employed by the State to thwart a Dalit group occupying government land. A character quotes B.R. Ambedkar’s speech in which he calls fasting a ‘filthy and foul act.’ Later, the group proceeds to garland Gandhiji’s effigy with ‘chappals’ before burning it down.
The director says that he spent the last few years studying the Adivasi struggles in Muthanga and Chengara. The struggles are incidental to the main plot, which focuses on the transformation in a Dalit youth who comes out of his shell to assert himself.
Mr. Cherian calls himself a story-teller rather than an activist. He has experimented with the casting by using non-actors like Kallen Pokkudan, an environmental activist. Also weaved into the story are the problems faced by Chitralekha, a woman auto driver from Payyannur, for entering what is considered a male bastion.
According to him, India’s censorship regime based on archaic colonial laws, are outdated in an age when content distribution has undergone a revolutionary change.
“The concept of censoring needs to change. In the U.S., the Motion Picture Association of America, a non-governmental body of filmmakers, rates films according to the content but never prevents its release. But to release in India, I have to sit in front of bureaucrats who do not have any idea of film-making and answer pointless questions,” he says.