Political Appointees Always in the Censor Board
By Hemanth Reddy S 24/01/2016

 KOLKATA: Deepa Dhanraj is an award-winning filmmaker who has been actively involved in the women's movement since 1980. Some of her most most-talked about films include 'Enough of this Silence' (2008), 'The Advocate' (2007), 'Nari Adalat' (2000), 'Itta Hejje Mundakka Thegiya Bediri Hindakka' (1995), 'The Legacy of Malthus' (1994), 'Something like a War' (1991), 'Kya Hua Iss Shehar Ko' (1986) and 'Sudesha'(1983). In town for a retrospective of her films at the Third Kolkata People's Film Festival, the documentary filmmaker spoke to TOI. Excerpts:

This is the first time that a retrospective of your films is being held in Kolkata...

I really admire the work of Cinema of Resistance. In the early 80s, there was a kind of democratic film-viewing that was practised by young people. We used to go for basti-screenings. Earlier, screenings were often used as pedagogic experiences. In today's world, where people are used to torrent download, most are viewing films on their individual devices. I like this effort of turning cinema into a collective screening experience. I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of audience turns up for these screenings. They were informed, serious and engaged.

Do you see a difference in the viewers who come to watch documentaries now?

In the early 80s before the videos came in, we had to go around with projectors. We wanted to take films to the people. We would have open-air screenings. That was a different era completely. Many cities now have certain spaces dedicated for screening documentaries. Vikalp in Bangalore has hired a film theatre for screening documentaries every month. Those screenings are mostly for the educated middle class. I am glad that they are coming to watch the documentaries in large numbers. Then, there is Cinema of Resistance that is taking the films to the streets. But they also have a political agenda. There is a group in Bangalore called Pedestrian Pictures. They too have a political agenda. They try to do a bit more than just screening a film.

Are you saying that people are spontaneously coming to watch documentaries now while earlier you had to take them to the viewers?

Now, people come to watch documentaries. There are so many kinds of documentaries being made. There are experimental ones. There are others where the aesthetic treatment is different. Various kinds of viewers are responding to these films. But I would say the group of people whom we used to reach out in the 80s with our projectors would still need us to go to them with our films.

How difficult is it to get a censor certificate for the documentaries that you make?
I made a documentary called 'Kya Hua Iss Shehar Ko' in 1984. It is clear from there that the Congress was involved in the riots. It had taken me one year to get a Censor certificate for the film. That too, with cuts. The Censor Board has always had political appointees. Their own affiliations will determine what they certify and what they ban.




Your documentary - 'Something Like War' - has been described as a "chilling examination of India's family planning program from the point of view of the women who are its primary targets. It traces the history of the family planning program and exposes the cynicism, corruption and brutality which characterizes its implementation. As the women themselves discuss their status, sexuality, fertility control and health, it is clear that their perceptions are in conflict with those of the programme". Is it difficult to make a documentary like that now?




No, people are still working. A case in point is 'Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai!" Having said that, there will be people who will try to stop screening anything that is politically inconvenient for them.




You are from Hyderabad. What's your reaction to the dalit student's death?


I don't want to comment on it immediately. Obviously, one is very pained. One can hardly read his suicide letter. But I don't want to give a knee-jerk reaction. What I feel good about is the response of the students all over the country. There are protests from students. They are holding meetings. This is very positive and I am heartened to see this. It shows that they are thinking about the nature of the institutions and are raising questions. It is fantastic that the students are responding to the challenges.

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