Documentary on 2020-21 farmers' protest dropped from Bengaluru film fest

Our voice is being curtailed more and more with every passing day, says the film's maker Kesari Haravoo

File photo of farmers protesting the three farm laws in 2020 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
File photo of farmers protesting the three farm laws in 2020 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


With his 2021 documentary on the farmers' protest being dropped from this year's Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES), Kannada filmmaker Kesari Haravoo on Saturday said for the last two years, "our voice is being curtailed more and more with every passing day".

Kisan Satyagraha, Haravoo's documentary on the farmers’ protest against the erstwhile three farm laws, was dropped from this year's BIFFES after failing to get a clearance from the Union information and broadcasting ministry. The 15th edition of the film festival was inaugurated on 29 February by Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. Films are being screened from 1-7 March.

Haravoo said he came to know about his film being dropped from the festival only when the schedule was released. "My film is there in the catalogue released by BIFFES 2024. But when I checked the schedule, I could not find it, so I called the artistic director of the festival, N. Vidyashankar, who told me the film did not get clearance from the ministry of information and broadcasting and had to be dropped at the last minute. I find that our voice is being curtailed more and more with every passing day if we say anything against the establishment," he said.

Festival director Thrilok Chandra K.V. said they were not given any reason for the decision by the I&B ministry. "We must send all the films that we are showcasing for clearance. We sent 200 films to the ministry. Initially, six films were not cleared. We sent them again, of which two films — one from Haravoo and one from Ukraine (20 Days in Mariupol) — were denied permission. Haravoo’s film, being a documentary, had no certification," Chandra said.

But Haravoo said there is no rule that only certified films should be showcased at international film festivals in the country. “Documentaries usually are not certified, and many such films have opened at international film festivals,” he added.

Meanwhile, reacting to Haravoo's Facebook post about the ban, another filmmaker from Karnataka's Udupi, and former head of the direction and screenplay department of Annapurna College of Film and Media in Hyderabad, Ramachandra P.N. said the I&B ministry has the authority to stop screening only when public order is disturbed.

“A few years back, the Kerala FF went to the courts and won the case in two of the three uncertified films that were not given permission. It took 6 months from the film festival for the courts to decide that. But the refusal order was termed as illegal as the reason given by the govt was the possible disturbance of law and order- which the court said that the state is duty bound to maintain. Point is--will the Karnataka govt go to the courts as its own freedom of expression is at stake?" he wrote.

In 2017, the I&B ministry had banned the exhibition of three documentaries — In the Shade of Fallen Chinar; March, March, March and Unbearable Being of Lightness — at the 10th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK). Kerala HC heard the writ petition filed by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, the organiser of the festival.

While Unbearable Being of Lightness talks about the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, March, March March is about the protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University and In the Shade of Fallen Chinar is a short documentary offering a glimpse into the lives of a group of young Kashmiri artists.

Ramachandra told PTI that of the three films, the court did not take a stand on the one on Kashmiri students. “But the other two films were allowed to be screened," he recalled.

Incidentally, in 2019 too, Kerala State Chalachitra Academy filed a writ petition against the banning of Anand Patwardhan's Vivek/Reason by the I&B ministry, again at IDSFFK, stating that screening the film could cause law and order problems. But Kerala HC held that the Centre's claim could not be upheld and that the screening was permissible according to the guidelines framed by the ministry.

Haravoo also said a few years ago, when the Central government issued a rule that documentaries submitted for National Awards must be certified, several filmmakers, including Patwardhan, protested and finally stopped submitting for the awards.

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