Filmmakers Anand Patwardhan and Pankaj Kumar have moved the Bombay High Court against the Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) after their documentary films were not selected to be screened during the festival that opens on January 28.
A division bench of Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice R I Chagla on Friday directed the Union government to state what process was followed by the selection committee of MIFF while rejecting Patwardhan’s Vivek/Reason and Kumar’s Janani’s Juliet and Two Flags.
In the petition, the filmmakers contended: “The petitioners state and submit that the common thread that runs through some of the documentaries that were not selected for the competition or exhibition including the petitioners’ documentaries is that they are critical of the current political dispensation and/or critical of the political philosophy that they claim to espouse.”
They further alleged that unregulated discretionary powers, including pre-selection process of MIFF, juxtaposed with the fact with the non-selection of all documentaries critical of the current Union government, the political party in power and their political ideology, points towards clear malafide use of discretionary of power.
The petition said that Patwardhan’s documentary Vivek/Reason, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2018, plays out over eight chapters “that document a particular political ideology’s ascendancy in recent times”. The film covers the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh and investigates the connection of these crimes to the various sectarian outfits.
“It also looks at the violent attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection, the caste-based discrimination that led to the suicide of the young student leader and scholar Rohith Vemula, and numerous other outbursts of violence, large and small, connecting them to present an overview of the turmoil that India is presently witnessing”, the petition stated.
Kumar’s film Janani’s Juliet, the petition added, follows the story of Indianostrum, a Puducherry-based theatre group, which is disturbed by a spate of honour killings in India. His other entry to MIFF that also was rejected, Two Flags, explores the idea of identity, citizenship and home in the post-colonial era through the story of the 4,600 French-Tamil people of Puducherry.
Arguing for the petitioners, senior counsel Mihir Desai told the court that two of the three films were shortlisted as entries to the Oscars and film festivals are important platforms for screening of documentaries.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh and advocate Advait Sethna, representing the Films Division and the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, argued that the filmmakers, who had, in December 2019, agreed to abide by the festival regulations, cannot challenging them in court because their films were not selected.
Calling for records, the court directed the Union government to state what process was followed by the MIFF selection committee while rejecting the three documentary films. The court will hear the case further on January 27. The five-day festival, scheduled to begin on January 28, is organised by Films Division of the ministry.