A film festival in Bengaluru showcasing films on gender and sexuality has run into trouble following controversial local media coverage of two performances centred on caste and nudity, respectively.
Organisers of the three-day Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF, which ended on Sunday evening, have said coverage by a popular Kannada TV channel and newspaper may prompt the police to register a complaint against the event.
The controversy began on Thursday when the festival opened with a series of 12 performances on the theme of body and vulnerability, with two of them involving nudity.
One performer stood naked with “hug me” painted on his body – an attempt to reclaim the notion of shame around naked bodies, organisers said. The other performer covered just his face an attempt to symbolise caste and rituals around death.
But two days later, a local channel started playing photos of the performances on loop, after having allegedly accessed them from someone’s personal Facebook account. The anchors questioned if this “kind of art” could be a part of “our tradition”. The next day, a Kannada newspaper published an article debating whether nudity was art at all.
The ensuing controversy has left festival organisers fuming.
“They published completely wrong facts about the festival and tried to defame the artists, the organisers and the venues. The festival is a private event meant for adults and these media articles are responsible for making them salacious and pornographic,” said Nitya Vasudevan, one of the organisers.
Another organiser, Nithin Manayath, said two people from the team were called to the local police station for questioning. “It seems the police are making a complaint. This is what media sensationalism of such an event does,” he said.
The police have, however, sought to down play the issue. Police commissioner NS Megharik told HT that they will act only if somebody files a complaint against the festival organisers.
The organisers continue to be on edge, though. “There is pressure on us. We have been called to meet some high ranking police officers on Monday but they haven’t told us why we’re being called,” said one of the organisers.
But the artists refused to be cowed down by the controversy, saying their performances were inspired by themes of caste and rituals.
“In our performances, we tried to address the issue of one’s body and how identity is shaped based on being born into a particular caste , religion or race. For instance, if one is born a Hindu and later adopts another religion or becomes atheist, then how does the family decides what customary rituals are followed when you die? My inspiration for the performance was the painful tragedy around Rohit Vemula’s death and the controversy around his caste identity,” said Suresh Kumar, one of the artists.
A delegate attending the festival, Mr Daniel Kuriakose, also appeared to back the artists.
“If we were consider the fact that for several centuries, the naked bodies of oppressed caste women have been paraded naked in order to shame or punish them, one is forced to believe that this notion of “ samskruti” is a concept that emerged from the hydra headed monster we call caste”.
The BQFF is now in its 8th edition and has emerged as an important, crowd-funded international festival.