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I was assaulted, says Rakesh Sharma

The award winning filmmaker, who was detained in NYC, relives his horror tale.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 15:28 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India

When Rakesh Sharma left his New York hotel to capture some street shots on his palmcorder, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. For over two hours on May 13, 2005, the documentary filmmaker says he was detained, physically and verbally assaulted by city police detectives.

According to Sharma, the detectives searched his bag and also damaged his camera. He was let off only after his credentials as an award-winning filmmaker were verified on the Internet and the footage he shot was viewed by the sleuths.

The incident was to be forever etched in Sharma's memory and the 41-year-old Indian filmmaker decided he wouldn't take the humiliation lying down. He filed a lawsuit against New York on January 10 this year.

"We now await a hearing as well as the city's response," says Sharma in aninterview.

Best known for his film Final Solution which is based on the 2002 Gujarat riots, Sharma is no stranger to controversy. His film was banned in India by the Censor Board for several months. The ban was only lifted in October 2004 after a sustained campaign for the film which won several prestigious awards abroad, including a Special Jury Award at the Berlin film festival.

Rakesh Sharma, who was detained in New York, relives his horror tale. He says he was detained, physically and verbally assaulted by the New York police.

The suit, filed on his behalf by the New York Civil Liberties Union, challenges the constitutional validity of the city's film permit policies, which in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy puts filmmakers at risk of being arrested for documenting public places.

"My lawyers and I believe we have a very strong case. We hope punitive action will be taken against the detectives concerned, the city's permit policy will be modified and appropriate damages will be awarded," he says.

In fact, Sharma had filed his first complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) immediately after the incident in May. The CCRB conducted its investigations over the next six months but the filmmaker got tired of waiting.

"We filed the lawsuit since the CCRB enquiry took quite long and also because it has very limited punitive powers. The lawsuit also brings up an important issue within the realm of the US constitution - the right to free speech," says Sharma.

"For nearly two hours, I was made to stand on the sidewalk outside Starbucks, with my camera and passport in the detective's possession, not allowed even to move, not allowed to use my phone," he recalls.

With his now-famous lawsuit against New York city, Sharma believes he is taking up cudgels on behalf of the entire filmmaking fraternity.

The incident at the 'Big Apple' put paid to Sharma's plans for his next documentary but the director says he is ready to pick up from where he left off.

"I plan to resume shooting as I had suspended all shooting in New York after my detention. My film deals with the lives of common people in the post 9/11 world, especially immigrant communities," says the Mumbai-based filmmaker, who started his career by assisting filmmaker Shyam Benegal.

Sharma admits he is plagued by resource crunches and says the film can only be a long-term project with a two to three-year horizon.

"Since I am a self-financed independent filmmaker, I am not able to shoot at the pace I'd like to as I have to keep waiting to generate adequate resources," he adds.

First Published: Feb 08, 2006 15:28 IST