Documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma on his recent war of words with Anupam Kher, and how, this election season, “Final Solution” has found a second wind
Ten years after Rakesh Sharma’s “Final Solution” was submitted to the Central Board of Film Certification, the film continues to make news. In the election season, the film is being screened more frequently than ever before, and, as usual, is not far from a controversy either. If back in March-April 2004 when the film was initially denied a certificate for screening before being cleared by a special panel headed by Shyam Benegal, today the controversy has been stoked by Anupam Kher, actor and former Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, arguing on television that he had cleared the documentary filmmaker’s much-talked about “Final Solution”; a claim that has been fiercely contested by Sharma.
Dismissing Kher’s claims as a result of “verbal diarrhoea”, Sharma says, the actor has a penchant for “improvisation” when it comes to truth. “He is an actor; he is used to improvisation.” For the record though, “Final Solution” was initially not given a Censor certificate and it took a change in the government at the Centre for the film to be cleared, NDA giving way to UPA. Sharma quotes a CBFC order of 2004 which laid out the reasons for not giving it a certificate, “The film promotes communal disharmony among Hindu and Muslim groups and presents the picture of Gujarat riots in a way that it may arouse the communal feelings and clashes among Hindu Muslim groups. It attacks on the basic concept of our Republic i.e. National Integrity and Unity. Certain dialogues involve defamation of individuals or body of individuals. Entire picturisation is highly provocative and may trigger off unrest and communal violence.”
Of course, the film was later cleared by a special committee the same year and went on to even get a National Award besides numerous international honours. Now, in this election season, the film is the talk of the town. There have been special screenings organised by many individuals across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Bengal. Karnataka Souhard Vedike, an alliance of over 150 anti-communal organisations in Karnataka, has had screenings in each district of the State. Then there have been screenings of the film’s Tamil version in Tamil Nadu.
“Over the next week, I have heard of screenings at Jadavpur University, Calicut, Seemandhra and Telengana, etc. I don’t stop anybody from screening my film. The message is larger than the individual. Anybody can download the film and watch it. I hope it is seen by more and more people. I am very liberal as far as the domestic market goes. But I do not allow free screenings abroad. That is where I make whatever little money I do,” states Sharma, who has now made shorter versions of his original film which went up to three and a half hours. “Since I realised that a lot of first time voters, now 18-19, were 6-7-year-old at the time of the Gujarat carnage and thus unfamiliar with it, I made several ‘short films’ out of the longest version of ‘Final Solution’. These have been online on my own Youtube channel (youtube/rakeshfilms) - Right from the NoMore campaign to various AAP city groups as well as progressive student groups to anti-communal activists – many have downloaded the shorts and screened/ circulated them.”
It all seems so laudable yet it was neither easy nor safe for Sharma to make the film in the aftermath of the 2002 hate violence. Shooting was not easy for this brave, hard hitting film that talks of the Naroda Patiya gang-rape, of Gulbarga Housing Society being reduced to ashes even as its residents, including former Rajya Sabha MP Ehsaan Jafri vainly called up the police for intervention.
Tongue firmly in cheek, today Sharma says, “The BJP guys are my param mitr (best friends).” Back then he admitted, “It was not an easy film to shoot. At many places people abused Muslims, not only in words but also through graffiti. My camera was smashed, the windscreen of my car was broken at another place. At many places I had to seek police protection. You see a shot at the beginning of the film where a person is chased by a mob. That was me the mob was chasing, trying to prevent me from arriving at the truth. I was even attacked by Muslim boys who thought I might be there for some other purpose.”
For all his hardships, Sharma’s “Final Solution” deserves to be seen. Back in 2004, when it was first screened at the French Cultural Centre, people stood in the aisles, sat cross-legged on the floor to watch the film that left everybody shocked and speechless. Today, as the nation is set to choose a new government, it is again being watched across the country. Sharma though is far from Gujarat in the safe haven of Goa.
You see a shot at the beginning of the film where a person is chased by a mob. That was me the mob was chasing, trying to prevent me from arriving at the truth