Speaking to TNM, director Sajin Babu said that the same theatres would not have had a problem with such scenes in a foreign film.

Kani Kusruti sits on a boat wearing a blue Sari, maroon blouse and white shawl on her head, while another woman sits facing the other way and behind them is a man on the phoneStill from Biriyaani
Flix Interview Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 17:38

Biriyaani, an award-winning Malayalam film, released last Friday in about 30 theatres across Kerala. However, several film theatre owners and managers have been refusing to screen the film. Director Sajin Baabu says that their problem seems to be with the adult content in the film.

“They claim that it is because there is not enough audience to watch the film. However this is not true. About 30 to 40 people are reaching these small theaters and that is not a bad number, especially now when we have only 50% occupancy in theatres (due to COVID-19). I had my friends tell me that when they go to the theatres, the manager or owner tells them that the film has explicit content and discourages them from watching it,” says Sajin.

The film tells the story of a Muslim woman’s struggle in Kerala. Khadija, the central character, is played by Kani Kusruti who won the State Award for Best Female Actor for the performance. Kani also won the Best Actor award at the BRICS competition category of the Moscow Film Festival.

Read: ‘Biriyaani’ review: Kani brilliantly portrays a suspected ISIS joinee’s sister

Biriyaani opens with an intimate scene between Khadija and her husband. However this is only a prelude to the loveless marriage they share.

“They have just watched the first scene and judged the film. They do not have issues with the religious content. They have not understood the film or taken the effort to do so. When some young women went to watch the film in a theatre, they were told that there is not enough audience to play it. So the women said that they will bring 30 of their friends. Then they were told that it was the theatre association’s decision not to play the movie. However, when I contacted the association, I was told that there has been no such move,” Sajin says.

Sajin has earlier directed two notable films – Unto The Dusk and Ayaal Sassi, both of which were critically acclaimed. Biriyaani too won a number of awards at various festivals including the NETPAC Best Film award at the Asiatica Film Festival in Rome, Jury Award at Bangalore International Film Festival, and so on. It was also screened at the recently concluded International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).

“From our interactions with a close circle of people, it seemed to me that the movie will not have any troubles getting accepted in Kerala. But it shows that we are still a long way behind when it comes to accepting progressive ideas. If the same content was part of a foreign film, the same theatres would not have a problem with it. They can’t however accept it in a Malayalam film,” says the aggrieved director.

The government-run theatres have not denied screening, it is a few private theatres mostly in the Malabar area that have denied permission. “I have been told that the film can be screened in more government theatres next week. After this, I am going to give the film to an Over-the-Top (OTT) screening platform. I want it to reach the maximum number of people,” Sajin adds. 

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