Freedom of expression

We are living in the Dark Ages, says ‘S Durga’ actor Kannan Nair

‘Not since the Emergency has freedom of expression been denied in this manner.’

Actor Kannan Nair was heartbroken when he learnt that Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga, in which he plays the lead, had been dropped by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry from the 48th International Film Festival of India in Goa. He is once again disappointed that even after a Kerala High Court order reversing the ministry’s decision, there is no clarity on when the movie will be screened.

The Malayalam movie, previously named Sexy Durga, was unanimously selected by a 13-member jury last month for the festival’s Indian Panorama section. However, the ministry dropped the movie along with Ravi Jadhav’s Nude, from the final list without explanation.

After Sasidharan appealed, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday ordered the screening of S Durga at the ongoing festival. However, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on Thursday appealed against the order, contending that the movie had “great potential” to cause law and order problems because of its title that alludes to the “revered principal Goddess in India”, according to a report in The Indian Express.

But in a small victory for the Malayalam movie and its cast and crew, the Kerala High Court on Friday declined to stay the earlier order and instead directed the festival jury to view the version of the movie that was cleared by the Censor Board of Film Certification and take a call on its screening.

For the last few days, Nair has been knocking on several doors to find out the status of movie’s screening at IFFI, but has received no response. The event began on November 20 and ends on November 28. After several failed attempts to meet the film festival’s director, Sunit Tandon, Nair approached him at the inauguration of an open forum event held on the sidelines of the film festival on Wednesday.

The actor handed over the court order and a consent letter from the director to Tandon. “But, he didn’t respond and just walked away,” Nair told The film festival’s administration has not yet issued a statement on the movie.

S Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at Rotterdam earlier this year, but its journey in India has been full of hurdles. In October, the movie was cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification, which ordered 21 audio cuts. The word “sexy” was dropped from the title.

“We are living in the Dark Ages,” Nair said. “Not since the Emergency has freedom of expression been denied in this manner. All artists should have the privilege and right to express themselves. We were given a U/A certificate by the CBFC. Who is the government to ban our movie?”

In S Durga, Kabeer (Nair) and his girlfriend Durga (Rajshri Deshpande) hitch a ride with two strangers in the dead of night in a small town in Kerala. The journey explores the themes of patriarchy, violence, masculinity and the fear and helplessness women can experience in public spaces. The movie exposes the double standards of a society that reveres women as goddesses on the one hand and preys on them on the other, the actor said. “In our movie there is a reference of a festival called Garudan Thookkam or the eagle hanging ritual, where men sacrifice themselves for goddess by hanging from iron clips. And on the other hand, the same men [are] treating women like sluts. That’s what this film is trying to convey,” Nair said.

The movie had no written screenplay and the actors enjoyed tremendous creative freedom over the dialogue and script, Nair said.

S Durga.

Nair is doing his Phd in theatre. He has previously starred in the Malayalam movie Chocolate. If screened, S Durga will mark Nair’s debut at the International Film Festival of India. “IFFI is the best platform for any artist,” said Nair. “Also our film was unanimously selected by the jury.”

Nair decided to attend the festival as a delegate after S Durga was dropped. He said that he has lost the time and the inclination to attend other screenings because of the confusion over his movie. “Even for MAMI [the Mumbai festival] we made a last minute entry, so our film was not mentioned in the catalogue. For us, a mention in the catalogue means a lot and is something to show back at home. We have been denied that again,” he said.

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