Critically acclaimed Kannada film Pedro absent at BIFFes, sparks a row

With several critically acclaimed films failing to make it to Bangalore International Film Festival’s lineup this year, filmmakers comment on the ambiguity around the selection criteria used by the jury and organisers.
Raj Shetty in a screengrab from Pedro.
Raj Shetty in a screengrab from Pedro.
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Debutant director Natesh Hedge’s 2021 Kannada film Pedro opened to positive critical reception and has been receiving rave reviews in international film festival circuits over the past year. A 3-minute-long trailer of the Raj B Shetty starrer, which was unveiled on February 25, had also created a buzz amongst fans. However, much to everyone’s surprise, the film did not make it to the Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFes)’s lineup this year, which is scheduled to take place between March 3 to March 13 this year.

The plot of Pedro – which premiered at reputed international film festivals like Busan International Film Festival, and bagged multiple awards – revolves around the life of an outcast and alcoholic, who accidentally kills a cow, an act that infuriates a religious vigilante and sets off a chain of events that pits him against the entire community. The film’s non-inclusion in the 13th edition of BIFFes took a controversial turn when  Sunil Puranik, President, Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy told The Hindu on March 1 that the film did not make it to the cut because it handles a “religiously sensitive” topic. In subsequent media reports, Sunil stated that he was misquoted. TNM has reached out to Sunil Puranik for a comment and we await his response.

Nonetheless, the lack of clarification from the organisers’ end, leaves room for ambiguity around the selection criteria and for questions around whether the selection process was influenced by the personal political leanings of the jury members or the organisers of the festival.

Speaking to TNM, 26-year-old Natesh Hegde who directed Pedro, opines that organisers of film festivals cannot dismiss a film assuming that it would not be appropriate for audiences to watch, but should rather allow audiences to decide. “They should look at the merit of the film, and not simply dismiss it because of the subject. Cinephiles, journalists and critics across the country, who have viewed the film, have stated that the film has been dealt with sensitivity. They will have to understand what the film is trying to communicate and see how it pushes the boundaries of the medium. I believe I have done that with Pedro,” he says. Natesh further says that international film festivals have created a space for a discourse between filmmakers and their audiences, which he believes is lacking in Indian film festivals.

Kannada actor-filmmaker Rishabh Shetty, who produced Pedro, tells TNM that the organisers have also cited other technical issues as reasons behind the non-inclusion of the film. “They haven’t issued a clear justification for not choosing the film. We initially heard the copy we submitted could not be played but others told us the film has already been viewed by the jury. We have also heard other reasons like not submitting it under the category of Kannada Cinema competition and not having a censor certificate. But a censor certificate is not required for submitting under the Asian Cinema competition,” he points out.

Both Natesh and Rishabh also question why the regulations and criteria for selection were not announced, if the film was rejected on the grounds of discussing ‘political’ or ‘religious’ subjects.

Expressing his dismay, Natesh says, “Several editions of BIFFes exposed me to international films that shaped my craft. I was eager to screen my film for audiences back home.”

It is to be noted that Pedro has been selected as a part of the India Gold category in the 22nd edition of MAMI Mumbai Film Festival which is also being held this month. 

Watch the trailer of Pedro here:

Non-exclusion of other critically acclaimed films 

Apart from Pedro, other critically acclaimed films such as Koli Taal and Neeli Hakki have also failed to make it to the cut. On Thursday, March 3, director of the 2021 Hindi film Barah by Barah, Gaurav Madan shared with followers on social media that his film was initially selected for BIFFes under the category of Asian Cinema Competition but later dropped. He also questioned if it was a coincidence that the organisers called him on the same day (February 27), when the film received views from Bengaluru.

“Last Saturday, I got an email from the Bengaluru International Film Festival informing me that Barah by Barah has been selected in the ‘Asian Competition’ of the 2022 edition. Next morning a flustered volunteer called me to inform me that he ‘mistakenly’ sent the email and that my film hasn’t actually made the shortlist. Really? Even a kindergarten festival learning to crawl in its first edition doesn't do that!!!,” (sic) he wrote in his post which also included a screengrab of the email he received from BIFFes.

Barah by Barah is based on the life of Sooraj, the last remaining death photographer on the banks of Manikarnika, who is forced to go out of work. The makers revealed in earlier interviews that the film reflects on the cultural, structural and political transformation of Varanasi.

Insinuating that BIFFes’ selection was influenced by the political themes discussed in the film, Gaurav wrote, “Astonishingly, my Vimeo plus informed me about a few views of the film screener in ‘Bengaluru’ on the same morning. Clearly someone who ‘mattered’ saw the film late and realised its subject matter might not go well with the political leanings of ‘some others who mattered’!” (sic)

Drawing parallels between other critically acclaimed films that were not shortlisted, the director stated, “I hear Natesh Hegde’s Pedro was snubbed and so was Abhilash Shetty’s Koli Taal. All these films obviously have something in common and it isn’t hard to guess!”

Movie buffs have also expressed their disappointment towards the non-inclusion of another 2021 Kannada film Neeli Hakki, which follows the journey of a 10-year-old boy. According to the film’s director Ganesh Hegde, the film discusses the kind of freedom or the rights given to a child. “It is not just about our film. Several other movies that garnered praise at international film festivals have been rejected. Neeli Haaki is a beautiful and simple story that is not ‘religiously sensitive’. Why was it excluded?” asked Pedro director Natesh.

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