Sometimes, a ban can have the exact opposite effect.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision to deny permission to three films about student protests at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram has only given the titles wider fame and attention. In the Shade of Fallen Chinar, set in Kashmir and made by Fazil NC and Shawn Sebastian, was already on YouTube; PN Ramachandra followed suit by uploading The Unbearable Being of Lightness, about the aftermath of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad Central University, on Vimeo. Kathu Lukose has now taken a similar approach by making March, March, March, about protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, free to watch on YouTube.
Lukose was a student at JNU during the student protests in February 2016 and graduated from its School of Arts and Aesthetics later that year. The 17-minute documentary looks at the consequences of the moment in February when students were accused of “sedition” after doctored videos accusing them of shouting anti-India slogans were shared on social media and news channels.
March March March includes interviews with some of the protest’s most visible faces, including Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. Each of the activists talks about a different aspect of the allegations they face. Khalid expounds on the anachronistic quality of contemporary nationalism; Bhattacharya explains what sedition is; Kumar talks about their fight being one against the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh rather than the country. Disquiet over the RSS’s majoritarian and anti-minority views and distortion of history emerge as recurring themes in the documentary.
Lukose draws a parallel between the student protests in JNU and the May 1968 protests in France by running excerpts from 1968: The Year That Shaped a Generation. Shot between March and September 2016, March March March has stirring images of the protests – students chanting “Lal Salaam” slogans; Arundhati Roy delivering a speech about nationalism; a seemingly never-ending human chain. No wonder the I&B Ministry was spooked.