Malayalam film S Durga has been making headlines for almost a year now. Directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, the film that deals with an eloping couple who get picked up by a group of shady men, was originally named Sexy Durga. The film has gone through a taxing time, generating controversy and backlash from conservatives and right-wing groups while its future hung in the balance. Here, we recap the film’s journey from its screening at NFDC in November 2016 to its release this Friday:
INITIAL SCREENINGS AND AWARDS
- Nov 2016: Screened at NDFC Film Bazaar, won the Prasad DI Award.
- February-August 2017: Screened at various film festivals around the world, including the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Won the Hivos Tiger Award at Rotterdam, as well as the Golden Apricot Award in the International Feature section at the Yerevan International Film Festival, Armenia, becoming the first Indian film to win this award. Anurag Kashyap tweeted about it, “An extraordinary achievement. Minimal, super edgy thriller,” also citing its win at Rotterdam.
- July 2017: Won Best International Feature Narrative at the Guanajuato International Film Festival, Mexico.
CENSOR EXEMPTION DENIED, CBFC ASKS FOR REVISIONS
- April, September 2017: The Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) asked the CBFC for censor exemption to screen the film, first in the year-round programme, and later for the festival itself. CBFC denied exemption both times, saying that the film may “affect law and order” because it hurt “religious sentiments.” Sasidharan then applied for a censor certificate.
- 10 Oct: CBFC asked for 21 audio mutes, and a change of title from Sexy Durga to S Durga. The film was given a U/A certificate, and cleared for screening at MAMI. It was screened three times in the course of the festival.
- 18 Oct: Won India Gold Special Jury Mention at MAMI.
THE IFFI GOA SAGA
- 9 Nov2017: I&B Ministry released a list of films in the IFFI Indian Panorama section, where S Durga was originally supposed to play. S Durga, however, was not included in the Ministry’s list, an omission the IFFI Jury were not informed about. (The Marathi film Nude was also dropped.) This went against Clause 8.5 of the Indian Panorama 2017 regulations, which says: “The decision of the juries shall be final and binding and no appeal or correspondence regarding their decision shall be entertained.” An unnamed jury member was quoted in The Wire saying, “Even when we had submitted our list, we had very clearly, in no uncertain terms, told them [the ministry] that if you change anything, please get back to us.”
- 14 Nov2017: Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh resigned as head of the Jury of IFFI; editor Apurva Asrani and filmmaker Gyan Correa also resigned from their positions — all in protest of the withdrawal of S Durga and Nude. Shyam Benegal commended Ghosh’s decision, telling ANI, “The government should not support those people who do not want the film to be shown. Instead, support those who want to show the film. The government decided that a couple of films chosen by jury shouldn’t be there. If they override what jury does, their position becomes untenable. So jury or its chairman will have to resign. If a jury has been constituted and you disagree with their choice, then what is that jury supposed to be doing. What Sujoy Ghosh did is a correct thing.”
- 15 Nov2017: Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan moved the Kerala HC against the directives from the I&B Ministry and IFFI, writing on Facebook, “I have filed a writ petition before the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala against this unprecedented, illogical and unconstitutional action taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.” He also wrote, “The title is now amended as S Durga and the film has been given a U/A certification by CBFC, implying that there is no objectionable content in the film. Hence, there is no valid ground for excluding the film of the petitioner.”
- 18 Nov2017: 6 of the 13 jury members of IFFI wrote a letter to I&B Minister Smriti Irani, in support of the screening of these films. They wrote, “We find it distressing that the two films were removed without any intimation, discussion or recourse to the Jury which has the final say according to the Indian Panorama rules.”
- 21 Nov2017: The Kerala HC cleared the screening of S Durga, pointing out that it had already been given a CBFC ‘U/A’ certificate, after the beeping of certain expletives and the change of the title. The judgement stated, “When even the uncertified version was found to be worthy by the jury, there can be no objection raised as to the certified version being screened.”
- 24 Nov2017: The Kerala HC rejected the Centre’s appeal to stay the screening of the film at the festival.
- 25 Nov2017: A petition signed by several Hindu outfits (including members of Sanatan Sanstha and Gomantak Mandir Mahasangh) was submitted to the Director of IFFI. It requested IFFI not to screen S Durga, stating, “It is clear that the film has targeted the Hindu Goddess Durga and denigrated her and in the process hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. The film is also likely to create law and order situation. The court may have given the direction to show this film. We respect the court but you can’t ignore the sentiments of crores of Hindus who worship Goddess Durga. Though there is freedom of art, it can’t be at the cost of hurting of feelings of the majority community.”
- 27 Nov 2017: The film was screened for the Jury, which now had three new members: filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, actor Satish Kaushik and journalist Sudhir Chaudhary. Additionally, Rahul Rawail had been made acting chairperson. After the screening, 7 members approved of it, 4 did not: the 3 new members, plus Rawail. Although the 7:4 majority should have allowed the film to be screened in the festival, the Jury drew up two separate documents: one approving of the film, the other, not.
- 28 Nov 2017: CBFC Thiruvananthapuram intervened, preventing the film’s screening, claiming the objectionable way the title was presented as reason. This was in response to complaints made by “the IFFI jury at Goa over the title of the film”, although it was only some of the Jury who had raised objections. In a letter to the Jury, the CBFC wrote, “S### Durga (where the # means rectangular white boxes) has totally different implications and are effectively undermining and attempting to defeat the very basis of the title registration and changes effected thereby.” The film was not screened at IFFI.
Regional officer A. Pratibha, CBFC Thiruvananthapuram said they had not received complaints from anybody in October, when the board had passed S Durga and when it was screened at MAMI. The CBFC intervention only happened once there was dissent at IFFI.
EXCLUDED FROM COMPETITION SECTION AT IFFK, SASIDHARAN STARTS OWN FESTIVAL
- December 8 2017: S Durga was not accepted into competition at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), prompting Sasidharan to withdraw his film and start his own parallel indie film festival, the Kazhcha Indie Film Fest, which aimed to screen independent cinema. Sasidharan said, “We are protesting against the oppression of the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy and IFFK towards the film. Despite winning many international awards and recognition, the film didn’t make it to the competition section of the IFFK, nor were they ready to give the film its due. I think it was part of a conspiracy to undermine the achievements of this small film made on a shoestring budget. We are planning to organise a parallel festival, Kazhcha Indie Film Fest (KIFF), to protest the IFFK’s ignorance towards the growing indie film movement in India. We need spaces to challenge the system, which has been ruined by powerful people and vicious politics.”
- 11 Jan 2018: The Kerala HC ruled that the CBFC had the power to suspend a film until re-examination, in response to a petition by Sasidharan and his producer Shaji Mathew, who were “deeply aggrieved with the illegal, arbitrary, high-handed and mala fide manner” in which the CBFC had suspended S Durga in November.
- 21 Feb 2018: CBFC Revising Committee viewed the film and cleared it for release without any additional cuts. In a letter, the Committee wrote, “The title of the film in the credit roll was shown as ‘S Durga’, without any ‘S ###’ i.e. the rectangular white boxes. The title ‘S Durga’ was the title already certified by the CBFC, Thiruvananthapuram. It is apparent that the version exhibited for the Jury at IFFI, Goa was differing from the version exhibited for the Revising Committee. In the version shown they did not find any tampering with the title or the font of the title or visuals form as suggested by the Examining Committee.” Sasidharan was quoted by PTI to say, “They did not find anything wrong with the film. It is clear now that all that happened was done on purpose.”
NOT GIVEN RELEASE DATE TILL MAY, SASIDHARAN RESORTS TO ALTERNATIVE RELEASE
- March 2018: Sasidharan said, “I approached the theatres in Kerala; they said the screens are packed and could not give a release date until May. We cannot wait until then, which leaves us with no other option but to release it in some other way.” Sasidharan decided to use a crowd-sourced method of promotion and screening. He encouraged fans, movie-lovers and film groups in Kerala to organize audiences of at least 100 people who would like to have the film screened in their respective locations. If such audiences collected, Sasidharan decided to use an advance payment from the organizer(s) to rent out a cinema hall in their locality. The organizer(s) would be paid 10% of ticket sales. In short, the audience and the fans would be creating their own screenings and Sasidharan would not have to be concerned with paying rent to the owners of cinema halls.
- 19 March 2018: Promotional campaign kicked off by filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Groups of film-lovers travelled across Kerala to promote the film through street plays and the ‘Cinema Vandi’ or a cinema vehicle.
- 23 March 2018: Release in 40 theatres in Kerala, based on audience demand.
- 6 April 2018: Official nationwide theatrical release, through Vkaao audience-demand screenings (limited).