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A Year After JNU Violence, Censor Board Rejects Parvathy Starrer Varthamanam On Student Protests

Posted: January 5, 2021
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Kerala Censor board rejects Varthamanam, based on student led JNU protests; shows their discomfort with ‘difficult’ subjects, that make men, or powers that be, uncomfortable.

Indian censor boards seem to be leery of anything that makes the average Indian man, or even powers that be, uncomfortable. Remember Lipstick Under My Burkha? Now it is the turn of the Kerala Censor Board, who rejected certification for Varthamanam, a Parvathy Thiruvoth starrer on the backdrop of the JNU protests.

The reasons given by them will stun you.

Varthamanam, a movie written by politician and producer Aryadan Shoukath and directed by Sidhartha Siva revolves around a Muslim girl played by actress Parvathy Thiruvoth who goes to JNU to pursue her PhD and researches on a freedom fighter. Attracted to the unity of the students in the campus, she joins the students-led protests. 

The Kerala Censor Board rejected the screening of the films for reasons not clearly described initially. However, a now-deleted tweet by politician and Censor Board member Adv. V Sandeep Kumar made things very clear. He asserted in his tweet that the film contains ‘anti-national’ elements and that “the topic was the persecution of Dalits and Muslims in the JNU agitation.” 

His now-deleted tweet also said that since the screenwriter of the movie is Aryadan Shoukath, he rejected the movie.

The definition of ‘anti-national’

“How is it anti-national when you talk about the students protests in a Delhi campus?” asks Aryadan

Screenwriter Aryadan Shoukath defended his movie and reacted to the tweet by Adv.V Sandeep Kumar. In his Facebook post, Aryadan asked , “How is it anti-national when you talk about student protests in a Delhi campus, about the fight for democracy in India?” He further wrote , “We still live in a country that is a democratic, secular, socialist republic. Does one check the clan and race of the scriptwriter before giving permission for its screening?” 

Here’s an English version of this Facebook post in Malayalam taken through Google Translate:

Makes people ‘uncomfortable’

Films dealing with ‘difficult subjects’ have a history of making people uncomfortable.

Historian Romila Thapar writes in her book Voices of Dissent that dissent is not something uncommon. It is not a new occurrence. It has existed in India since time immemorial, thus is not something borrowed from the West. But, we are living in times where any form of dissent in India is marked as anti-Indian or more so, ‘anti-national.’

Films with dissent and strong messages for equality as a theme have faced the same wrath. They too are termed anti-national.

In 2017, the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ was denied certification from the Censor Board of India because according to the Board, the film contained sexual scenes and “a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.” However, the ban on the film revealed nothing but “the systematic suppression of women’s voices” as rightly said by the film director Alankrita Shrivastava

Similarly, a 2005 film titled Parzania which went on to win national accolades was banned in some states in India after a particular political party protested against its screening. 

History has witnessed that if anything, dissent makes a democracy stronger. It highlights the flaws existing in our system and strives to remove them. Since time immemorial, films have held the power to highlight inequalities and have helped raise the voices of the unheard – especially women’s voices.

By suppressing the voices of people, particularly women, not only our freedom of expression gets compromised but the very idea of equality and democracy also gets questioned.

Image source: YouTube, and a still from the film Varthamanam

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