Two filmmakers on Monday withdrew their petition before the Bombay High Court concerning the rejection of three of their films by the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) after the court explained its limitations in terms of jurisdiction.
A Division Bench of Justices S.C. Dharmadhikari and R.I. Chagla was hearing a plea filed by award-winning filmmakers Anand Patwardhan and Pankaj Kumar about the non-selection of their documentaries — Vivek/Reason , Janini’s Juliet and Two Flags — for the 16th edition of MIFF.
Vivek plays out over eight chapters that document a particular political ideology’s ascendancy in recent times. The film covers the murders of rationalists such as Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, and investigates the connection of these crimes to the various sectarians outfits. It also looks at the violent attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection, the caste-based discrimination that led to the suicide of the young student leader and scholar, Rohith Vemula, and numerous outbursts of violence, connecting them to present an overview of the turmoil that India is presently witnessing.
Janani’s Juliet is a story of a Puducherry-based theatre group, Indianostrum, which introspects the implications of caste, class and gender in the wake of honour killings. Two Flags is based on life and politics in Puducherry.
Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, representing the Films Division of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that organises the festival, explained the selection process of the films, and said the films were rejected after a scrutiny by the selection committee.
He said, “There is a committee comprising expert filmmakers working independently and the government has no role to play in the selection of movies.”
The court interrupted and said, “The impression is that so long as the documentary is critical of the current political dispensation, it will not be allowed to be screened.”
The court further said, “Suppose today there is a film made on the current student unrest, now if you try to stop it, with social media you will not be able to do it. It will get more publicity all over the world.” Justice Dharmadhikari said, “We should not inflict further damage to India by not accepting a contrary view. People who voice a contrary view feel they are targeted and hence are excluded. You (government) should also give them a platform.”
However, Mr. Singh said, in this case, it was a competition and if out of so many films, their (the petitioner’s) films were rejected then there must be films better than these three films.
The court then said, “You should have an open dialogue with people. Courts need not be bothered for everything. You may have an expectation, but it is not a right (to be selected).”
Senior counsel Mihir Desai, appearing for the duo, then agreed to withdraw the petition.