Award-winning Malayalam director, Jayan Cherian, has alleged that the censor board refused certification for his movie Ka Bodyscapes -- based on Kerala’s LGBT and feminist movements -- because it “insulted and humiliated” Hindu religion.
Jayan told HT on Tuesday that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) felt that his 2016 movie ridiculed Hinduism and was, apparently, uncomfortable with an alleged portrayal of the god Hanuman with “homosexual books”.
“The entire content… is ridiculing, insulting and humiliating Hindu religion, in particular portraying Hindu gods in poor light,” read a letter, purportedly from the censor board, and bearing the stamp of the regional CBFC office in Thiruvananthapuram.
The letter also pointed out problems with the movie showing a “lady masturbating” and “highlighting ‘gay’ by many ‘gay’ posters”.
Cherian rejected the charges, saying characters in the movie had struck a Hanuman pose in a scene holding some insignia against Section 377, India’s colonial-era law that criminalises homosexuality.
Here is a copy of the letter from CBFC office in Thiruvananthapuram:
“This is a bizarre attack on creative freedom and sexual minorities,” he told HT over the phone from New York. “We have to fight growing authoritarianism.”
The decision is likely to renew allegations that the censor board is acting at the behest of the ruling BJP administration -- a charge triggered two months ago when 89 cuts were demanded in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer, Udta Punjab.
After the NDA came to power two years ago, it has made controversial cultural appointments - such as that of actor Gajendra Chauhan as FTII chief -- amid allegations of rising cultural and religious intolerance, exemplified by the mob lynching last year of a Muslim man suspected of slaughtering a cow and the recent thrashing of four Dalit men by alleged self-styled cow protectors.
Ka Bodyscapes is set in Kerala’s Calicut city and follows the lives of three people -- a struggling gay painter Haris, his love interest, Vishnu -- a village boy with a right-wing family, and a young female factory worker Sia.
The movie captures the political tumult in recent years in the southern state that has been rocked by charges of growing fundamentalism and counter-movements such as the Kiss of Love campaign and LGBT prides in many cities.
Watch the trailer of Ka Bodyscapes here:
In the movie, Haris’ LGBT-themed painting exhibition is shown as vandalised by right-wingers. Sia fights the humiliation heaped on by her bosses for menstruation -- a recreation of viral social media campaigns #Happy to Bleed and Red Alert last year, where women spoke out against shrines such as Sabarimala and factory bosses discriminating against menstruating women.
The board alleged that the film used derogatory words for women but Cherian said the charge was bizarre as the movie was associated with many prominent Kerala feminists and was centred on a feminist campaign.
“I feel deeply committed to the cause and will challenge it in the high court. We will fight for free speech,” Cherian said. He pointed out that many mainstream movies that show gratuitous violence are often cleared for universal audience.
The film has already been shown at film festivals around the world.
The movie has already been shown at film festivals around the world but needs certification to be screened publicly in India. Cherian’s two previous feature films have won numerous awards, including honours from the Kerala government and the state-run Mumbai International Film Festival.
He alleged that the certification process was dragged out because his was a small-budget movie. He said in April, the CBFC’s Thiruvananthapuram regional office initially refused to certify the film and moved the process to Chennai, which cancelled the screening, saying they didn’t have enough Malayalam-speaking experts. The final decision was conveyed to him on Monday.
The board’s apparent discomfort with the homosexual themes disappointed many in the LGBT community.
“Why is the board uncomfortable with gay elements in the form of posters and paintings? The movie is centred on a gay painter’s life. This shows how morality works to determine obscenity,” said Jijo Kuriakose, an activist from Kerala.