Papilio Buddha director terms CBFC a draconian institution
Irate over the refusal of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to endorse his maiden film ‘Papilio Buddha,’ Indian-American film-maker Jayan K. Cherian has denounced film certification by the government as an archaic practice and a blot on a mature democracy.
“It is pathetic to treat films, a fine art, as a mere industry. Worse, there’s a draconian government body to censor it. Pity, it calls the shots at a time India is striving to be the champion of human rights, and is mobilising support for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. The rationale for the survival of such a framework is colonial hangover,” Mr. Cherian said over the phone from New York.
Taking strong exception to the CBFC’s contentions for denying certification to the film, Mr. Cherian said it was a simple, realistic portrayal of a displaced community’s trials and tribulations, and its subsequent uprising depicted metaphorically.
The film unfolds in fictional space, in a Dalit settlement called Meppara. The on-screen happenings are from the perspective of a youth Sankaran, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) dropout, whose insecurity and reticence are in stark contrast to the deep-rooted faith and conviction of his father Kandal Kariyan, played by environmentalist Kallen Pokkudan, Mr. Cherian said.
The film is visual-driven, with dialogues taking a backseat and the narrative deftly skimming through a host of real life movements, situations and characters — a pan-Dalit movement, a Gandhian bent on pacifying a group of ‘violent Harijans’ that resembles some belligerent eco-spiritual movements.
“If it were a mainstream hero such as Mohanlal or Suresh Gopi going hammer and tongs against the oppression of Dalits, the CBFC would have no qualms about it. However, my cinema is grounded, on-screen characters are essayed by actual Dalits, and their language is real, reflecting Dalit argot. Some expressions, borrowed from the prevalent lingo of Theyyam performers, seem to have been mistaken by the CBFC for cuss words. I’ve also made it a point to cast mainstream artistes such as Prakash Bare; Padmapriya; Thampy Antony; and Kozhikode Narayanan Nair, stereotyped as chief minister in Malayalam movies; to bring about a contrast,” Mr. Cherian said.
Questions of caste and gender constructs have never ceased to intrigue Mr. Cherian. A fervent critic of Kerala society and its ‘innate sham and hypocrisy,’ he sought to deal with the issue of gender fluidity by analysing it as a social construct that renders people as gender performers in a short film ‘Shape of the Shapeless.’ For all the talk about Kerala’s literacy rate and women empowerment, he views it as a society marred by voyeurism, sexual repression fomented by a false sense of morality and caste consciousness.
“Caste has stamped a deep scar across our society. It has a polymorphic nature, preventing permanent eradication as it mutates and takes on various forms. It is deeply ingrained in our psyche as shown by the recent occurrences at the Thoduva Colony in Varkala,” he said.
Last year alone, Mr. Cherian spent over 11 months at various places in the State, especially in Wayanad (Muthanga was where ‘Papilio Buddha’ was shot), Varkala, and Kasaragod moulding the film in his mind. As it comes before the CBFC review committee, the film-maker said he wished to screen it in Kerala’s villages.