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Siraj Syed



Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. Festival Correspondent, Film-critic, Feature-writer. 

 

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IFFI Goa 2017, XV: UnSeen Durga and the Nude that nobody saw

IFFI Goa 2017, XV: UnSeen Durga and the Nude that nobody saw

Among the many controversies and shake-ups that IFFI Goa 2107, one concerns the exclusion of two Indian films from the Indian Panorama. S*** Durga (name altered under instructions from the Central Board of Film Certification) and Nude. Durga was made by a Keralite director in Kerala while Nude is a Marathi film. The former uses Durga only as an allegory and there is no reference to the deity, while the latter is a docu-feature on the lives of women who pose in the nude for students studying painting and the arts. Neither film was shown. While the Nude makers accepted their fate, the Durga team moved heaven and earth, including camping in the courtyard of the festival campus, in attempt to have it shown. After a see-saw battle, they ended up on the losing side.

Let’s see what happened to S*** Durga.

My search begins with the official website of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), which was appointed in preference over the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) to organise IFFI Goa 2017. Presenting the highlights of their home page:

LATEST NEWS

Sponsorship Package for IFFI 2017Posted in   15/11/17 17:23 pmRequest for proposal for Sponsorship for IFFI 2017Posted in   15/11/17 13:22 pmCAWFI - Application FormPosted in   02/11/17 05:41 amCORRIGENDUM 2 - REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL (RFP) FOR PRODUCTION AGENCY FOR OPENING AND CLOSING CEREMONY OF...Posted in   25/10/17 14:23 pm

Obviously, all this is outdated and irrelevant.

Using their own search engine, I came up with

Results Summary: 0 matching documents found for "S*** Durga"

Moving on to the DFF, I clicked on Indian Panorama 2017 Regulations. Result:

404 - File or directory not found. The resource you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

Persisting, I found the pdf on

http://iffigoa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/IP_Regulations_2017.pdf

There is a clause here that allows inclusion of films NOT certified by the CBFC.

6.3 The completion year of production of the films should be during the last 12 months preceding the festival i.e. 1st September 2016 to 31st July 2017. The applicant should submit a declaration stating the date of completion year of production in the format as mentioned at clause number 7.2 (c) I, ii, iii. Films certified by CBFC during the period 1st September 2016 to 31st July 2017 are also eligible.

Note: (1) If the film (Feature or Non-Feature) has been selected/ screened in any Indian/international selection of a festival, it will be eligible for entry in Indian Panorama section in the same year only. (2) If a film selected for Indian Panorama is not certified by CBFC, DFF would take necessary action for seeking exemption as per Cinematography act, 1952 for the festival screenings.

On iffigoa.org, I could not find even one word on S*** Durga and Nude. Ditto the website of the Press Information Bureau, the Central Government’s official news agency. (All film-related activities fall under the purview of the Central Government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Thank God that still leaves India’s independent media. The S*** Durga and Nude stories so far, culled from news reports. Remember, S*** Durga was screened at the last minute, on the last day, as the last show, at the Mumbai Film Festival on 18th October 2107.

The Wire, 15 November (excerpts)

The row over dropping two films from the Panorama Section of the International Film Festival of India further escalated on Tuesday as S Durga director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan filed a petition in the Kerala high court against the information and broadcasting ministry as well as International Film Festival of India (IFFI) officials. Complicating matters even more, Apurva Asrani, another IFFI jury member, resigned.

These developments followed filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh’s resignation on Monday as head of IFFI’s Panorama section, after the I&B ministry pulled out Sasidharan’s film S Durga and Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi movie Nude from the 48th edition of the film festival, to be held in Goa from November 20 to 28.

“I want the ministry to go by the rule and not overlook the jury’s decision. They should behave like a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Sasidharan told PTI. His petition urges the ministry to implement the jury’s decision and include films in the final list.

While resigning, Asrani said, “I stand with the chairman of the jury. We have had a responsibility towards some very sincere films, and somewhere we have failed them. My conscience won’t allow me to participate in the festivities in Goa. However, I wish all the other films good luck. Each one has been made with a lot of love and no controversy should take away from that,” reported the Indian Express. Ruchi Narain and Gopi Desai, two jury members, also said they were disappointed with the I&B ministry’s decision to change the list without consulting or informing the jury members.

The petition cites protests by some fringe elements, based on their misunderstanding that the original title ‘Sexy Durga,’ was a reference to goddess Durga.

About Nude, the other film excluded from the festival, sources said the film was not completed technically, which is why it had been denied permission.

The Hindu, 25 November (excerpted)

Director asked to submit censored copy

After an uncertainty of several days, organisers of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2017 finally relented and have now written to Sanal Sasidharan, director of S. Durga to submit a censored copy of the film for consideration.

A spokesperson for the filmmaker said here on Saturday that the required documents and film copies would be submitted to the IFFI organisers.

A letter written by Sunil Tandon, director of IFFI, in this regard was uploaded on a social media site by Mr. Sasidharan late on Friday.

The letter requested the director to submit copies of the film to the festival authorities, as per directions of the Kerala High Court.

“In this connection you are requested to kindly provide the censored version of ‘S... Durga’ in 35mm print/DCP, Blue-ray, along with two DVD copies to IFFI, Goa. Please also submit a copy of the censor certificate,” Mr. Tandon’s letter said.

Kannan Nayar, lead actor of the film told reporters here on Saturday that copies of the film as well as the censor certificate would be submitted to Mr. Tandon’s office.

“We are waiting for the censor certificate to come from Kerala, after which we will submit all the required documents and film copies to the IFFI director,” Mr. Nayar said.

The cast of the film, which is present at the festival, had accused IFFI organisers of succumbing to political pressure in not responding to the court directive that film be screened at the IFFI.

IANS, 28 November 2017 (excerpted)

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's fight to have his Malayalam film "S Durga" screened at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) failed due to fresh title-related issues raised by the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC).

In a fresh twist to the "S Durga" saga, IFFI director Sunit Tandon said the film could not screened at the festival which closes on Tuesday.

Tandon's letter to director Sasidharan said: "Following the (jury) screening, certain issues related to the certification of the film with reference to the title of the film were raised. This was referred to the CBFC for clarification. As a consequence to the orders of CBFC, the film cannot be exhibited till the issues are resolved." (The CBFC had passed the film with a UA certificate allowing children to its screenings if accompanied by adults. Audio mutes were ordered at 21 places, and had been effected).

The film was dropped from the screening schedule of the Indian Panorama section of the IFFI along with another film "Nude", triggering controversy.

Sasidharan intensified his fight for "justice" with a petition at the Kerala High Court last week. The court directed IFFI to screen the film at the festival, after a censored version of the movie was screened for the jury.

According to official sources, the jury voted 7-4 in favour of screening the film at the festival late on Monday night, even as the festival was scheduled to end on the subsequent day.

The CBFC has now claimed that the change in title from "Sexy Durga" to "S Durga" and then to "S### Durga" was problematic and that the Indian Panorama jury which watched the film on Monday had complained about the changes in the title.

"Now we have received complaints from the IFFI jury at Goa that the title of the film on the title card is shown by the filmmaker as 'S### Durga' which has totally different implications and are effectively undermining and attempting to defeat the very basis of the title registration and changes effected thereby," Pratibha A, the CBFC regional officer from the Thiruvananthapuram division, said in a communication.

The CBFC communiqué to the film's producer Shaji Mathew also directs that the film should not be exhibited because of violations under Rule 33 of the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules 1983.

Meanwhile, Sasidharan and the film's actor Kannan Nayar staged a token protest near the IFFI screening facility here, against the refusal of the IFFI organisers to screen their film at the festival, despite the jury voting in the film's favour.

The Hindu, 02 December/Updated 04 December (excerpted)

“This is no longer about Sanal Kumar Sasidharan or S Durga. It has become a Constitutional issue about a democratic principle under threat. It sets a precedent, of a government setting rules without listening to the courts,” says an incensed Sasidharan when I meet him in Goa at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), 2017. Since his arrival in Panjim, the filmmaker has been attracting dozens of young film buffs and journalists who have just one question: “Will S Durga get at least one screening?”

Perhaps Sanal Kumar Sasidharan gets the courage to go to court because he is a lawyer himself. He quotes the famous P. Jagjivan Ram vs. S. Rangarajan case where “the Supreme Court declared that law and order is not an excuse to impede the right to speech and freedom of expression. My film was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival and played to full houses in New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram. There were no law and order issues there. This is just a lame excuse.”

He made feature films such as Oraalppokkam, which won the FIPRESCI award and the award for Best Director at the International Film Festival of Kerala. His Ozhivudivasathe Kali, on five friends getting together to drink on an election holiday, was noticed for unmasking double standards in society, and was bought by Netflix.

With S Durga, Sasidharan appears to have hit the big time. It has done the rounds of international film festivals, won a Hivos Tiger award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and played at the Singapore International Film Festival.

“Commercial cinema depends on the common man who responds instantly to what he watches on screen, and the industry is confident the common man will stand up for them.”

I think it is pure art that lasts. Activist or propaganda filmmaking will just come and go.”

On the last day of the festival, an editor of a local newspaper asked me to put in a word to old acquaintance Rahul Rawail the new Chairman of the Jury, for an interview. I did. Rahul made it clear that he would give an interview, but would not talk about S*** Durga “since the matter is sub judice”.

No such drama accompanied the dropping of Nude, by Marathi director Ravi Jadhav (Natarang, Balak Palak, Timepass, Banjo and Bioscope). Nude was also certified U/A. Watch the exquisite trailer here: https://youtu.be/bFJMq-Y3a00

It stars Kalyanee Mulay, Chhaya Kadam and Madan Deodhar, with Naseeruddin Shah in a cameo at the end. Nude was the jury's unanimous choice as the opening film of the Indian Panorama. Jadhav has now written a letter to the (I&B) ministry seeking clarity about why his film has been rejected. “Give me some reason at least. It was selected as the opening film. It was a big honour. I am really disappointed and shocked to hear that it has been dropped. Nobody informed me about the decision,” he told The Indian Express.

Jury member Hari Viswanath clarified that though some post-production work on the film was pending, the festival directorate asked them to view the available copy and told them that if the film is selected, the director will be asked for the completed version.

Jadhav said he was not asked for the final version. “I have made five films before, each of which has gone to multiple festivals in India and abroad. My first, Natrang, was also at IFFI. I know how to submit films for festivals and also to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). I have a different version of the film for the international festivals, with six scenes shot differently from the one for India.”

A report from Hindustan Times, dated 15 November 2107: Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh says he was in tears when he saw Nude --one of the two films excluded from the final selection for the Indian Panorama section of the 48th International Film Festival of India (IIFI).

Ghosh has resigned as the feature films’ jury head after Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi drama Nude and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga were reportedly removed from the recommended list.

In a call from New York where Ghosh is currently on a private visit, he said: “I’ve resigned from the chairmanship of the IFFI jury after this (the unceremonious exclusion of the two films). At the moment, I cannot say anything more.”

Prodded to comment on the merits of the two films, he said: “They are both very accomplished films. Nude is such a poignant and heartbreaking film. I wept when I saw it.”

Jury member Ruchi Narain added: “I am surprised and dismayed at the way the two films were dropped. Both the films were stunning cinematic experiences which the audiences at the festival would have loved.”

Nude is about a nude model’s dilemmas, while S Durga--originally titled Sexy Durga -- is described as a film about how obsession and worship can quickly degenerate in a patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power.

(All quotes and reports are reproduced/excerpted here for academic purposes only, with due credit. Copyrights vest with the authors and publishers).

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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