Feudal, homophobic and very much misogynist. This is how a Malayalam film director describes the Central Board of Film Certification, which has stalled the India release of his feature film on a gay couple.
New York-based filmmaker Jayan Cherian, is livid that his movie “Ka Bodyscapes” cannot be released in India but is being screened in film festivals across the world. This comes at a time when the Censor Board is already facing flak for its 'arbitrary' film certifications and for demanding unnecessary cuts.
In April, the Censor board denied clearance to the film stating that it contained "sensitive gay scenes, use of derogatory words against women and vulgar dialogues". It referred the film to a revising committee which scheduled a screening on July 5.
But the day before the screening, his assistant director received a call from the regional officer saying they “do not have enough language experts”. “They are afraid that I may go to court and so they are delaying the screening,” Jayan says.
“Ka Bodyscapes” is the story of a painter named Haris, Vishnu, his lover and rural kabaddi player, and their friend Sia, a woman from a conservative Muslim family in Kerala questioning patriarchal norms.
A still from the movie
The film is a work of fiction set in contemporary Kerala, where Jayan hails from, but the characters have been inspired by people he has come across. The plot integrates several important historical events.
“The film talks about a range of issues; from taboo around menstruation to same sex love. It is about a group of people using their bodies as tools for political resistance,” he says.
Several activists including Jijo Kuriakose of Queerala and author and sex worker Nalini Jameela have worked in the movie- some in front of the camera, some behind it.
The film has been screened at film festivals around the world including in the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival 2016.
“We made the film to show it in Kerala, in India. It is being displayed in festivals across the world, but we cannot release it in our own country,” he says.
A still from the movie
The 50-year-old filmmaker, who identifies himself as queer, has made several movies on identities and how they are represented and manipulated in society.
This is not the first time that Jayan’s movie is bearing the brunt of censorship. His debut feature film "Papilio Buddha" (2013) was about discrimination against Dalits which is prevalent in India even six decades after Independence.
The Censor board refused to clear the film. The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) cleared the release but demanded that the filmmakers mute Ambedkar's quotes. "In a democratic country, asking a film maker to delete a quote, that too of the Father of the Constitution, from his work of art is ridiculous," he said angrily.
Jayan finds it ironical that “Ka Bodyscapes”, which is against censorship, is itself in danger of being censored. “When these people have a moral high ground and act as moral gatekeepers of our values, it is terrible and is damaging our democratic spaces.”
While important issues are being sensitively portrayed in literature and other art forms, he feels that cinema is “extremely curtailed and controlled by the government".
“We live in a heterosexual male-centric world. Any attempt to unsettle the normative is objected to. Even our most radical political parties are homophobic.”
When the trailer of "Ka Bodyscapes" was first released, Jayan received several threats and hate messages from Hindutva activists.
While acknowledging that society was homophobic, he says it wasn’t always so. “Many of our gods are half male and half female. Sexuality in earlier times was never a crime at all. What kind of morality are we talking about? Our sense of morality is very Victorian and Christian-centric. We are conservative and prudish. But Indian tradition or culture is anything but homophobic,” he explains.
Though the fate of his film's release in India is still uncertain, Jayan says he won’t go down without a fight. “This is a classic case of muting political dissent. We are not a big production company. We are filmmakers working for social change. We have the right to show our work without any fear. We are ready to fight.”