Documentary filmmaker Anjali Bhushan has filed a criminal complaint against Leslee Udwin in a Delhi court. Bhushan says she was co-producer and co-director of the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ which Udwin says is her own work. The film was banned in India. In an exclusive interview to The News Minutes’s Chitra Subramaniam, Bhushan says “…the interview with Mukesh the rapist is the centrepiece of the documentary. Without me she would not have got that.” Excerpts.
India’s Daughter was released in March. Why did you wait till now?
I wanted to speak to family, friends and other people before taking legal action. I was in Toronto for the HotDocs in April and Cannes in May, I went to a few other places where documentary films are funded and discussed. I spoke to a lot of senior documentarywallas and filmmakers to understand what was going on. If I wanted to make money on this and join in with Leslee Udwin’s tom-toming I would have gone to court right away. But I had this nagging pain and hurt from deception I had faced.
That introspection was cathartic. Today I accuse Leslee Udwin of committing acts of cheating, criminal breach of trust, misappropriation, dishonest execution of agreements and dishonest concealment of property not only against me but also the Union of India. She has also tricked other Indians including ministers and ministries – everything is detailed in the court document. We have evidence that will stand the test of scrutiny in a court.
Why did the police refuse to file an FIR?
We don’t know, but we were given to understand that it was a controversial issue involving ministries etc. and it was better left closed.
Where did it all begin?
I took the idea to Leslee Udwin as a fiction film based in India on the issue of rape. We watched and discussed the film Ghar. She saw what I was capable of bringing to the project. At that time she had no plans to make any film on rape as she was working on a Jewish historical story and was not free after December 2013. The next morning, she said she wanted to make a fiction film, from a ‘rapist’s point of view’. I suggested an advocacy documentary instead to try and understand a rapist’s mind. She said she had never made a documentary, but jumped at the idea.
What happened next?
We agreed to collaborate as co-producers and co-directors, wherein apart from all other shared responsibilities, my task was to find a way to get the interviews and she was to find the money. The process of permissions started with the No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The actual permissions, to interview the rapists, from Prison Headquarters in Tihar was a very demanding exercise. We were given but under strict guidelines which Leslee Udwin largely disregarded. Leslee Udwin “coached” Mukesh the rapist. Asking leading questions is one thing, but pushing to get a line said exactly the way you want it is not ethical documentary filmmaking. She did the same with his mother. She even attempted to get Nirbhaya’s parents to mouth the exact lines from the script outline that she was adamant on. I objected to this in private arguments we had and also in front of the rest of the crew, but she said we would take care of it while editing. I was kept out of editing my own film.
The government of India wanted to see the film before release. Contrary to Leslee Udwin’s claims, she expected the authorities to review her version of the film edited to get clearances. The authorities were categorical in their stipulations and prohibitions post the review. Prohibited and objectionable material has been used in the film. On the one hand Leslee Udwin walks over people in India who worked with her, trusted her, gave her their time, equipment and advice all free of cost because they believed in the issue. On the other she says she is ‘gifting’ her work to India. Gift? We are talking about rape.
What is the issue over funding?
While I kept her updated on all my work (permissions, crew, translators etc.) she kept me out of her negotiations with the BBC including when she pitched the project. Ditto with all donor/funding meetings. There are other financial issues, which are now part of the court document. In hindsight, it seems she had a plan and bulldozed everything to fit it. That’s how she works. It is important to flag that Leslee Udwin took all the materials (footage & audio) and circumvented the compliances required by the Indian authorities.
When did the partnership sour?
I now see it as bad faith from the beginning. My contract was so written that she had the final say in everything. In my view, not only has Leslee Udwin cheated me and people who worked with me, she has also cheated the Government of India and Indians while posturing to make an advocacy film on rape after the December 16th incident in Delhi which shook the country and continues to trouble us.
Did you try to stop her when she decided to show the documentary?
Yes. I specifically told her she was going to alienate and offend all those who supported us, including senior government of India authorities. We had set out to make a film to understand the problem of rape without sensationalising it. When I was not shown the final cut I wrote to BBC. My mails went unanswered. Leslee Udwin also ignored my mails and held a press conference prior to the release, thereby ensuring a controversy. This was done possibly to bolster international sales. So, essentially, you steal from somebody, package it in your preconceived but misguided wrapping, and then ‘gift’ it back to people you stole from.
Have you been in touch with Leslee Udwin after the film was screened?
No, but I did speak some of the concerned people from BBC at the HotDocs meeting in Toronto in April. They were apologetic.
Why don’t you figure in the film’s credits?
I don’t know. My contract was wrongfully terminated by Leslee Udwin for alleged incompetence. If my work is not good enough, why is material directed by me used in the film? If my work is bad, why is footage shot by me used in the film? If part of my responsibility was to assemble the crew, why did her version of the film include materials – visual, audio and research – provided by them?
What in your view will be justice done in this case?
There are two aspects. One is financial. There are people to whom money is owed. They must be paid. Personally, I want the rights of the film to be revoked. Secondly, Leslee Udwin should apologise publicly to the people of India for having misused their good offices and defrauding their trust to make a commercial venture. For her it was like any other TV programme, there was no in-depth understanding of the issue.
What is your view on the ban?
Nobody makes a film to be banned. Freedom of speech is sacred for me. However, I think Indian authorities saw India’s Daughter as a sensational piece. If I as an Indian citizen went into a high-security prison in the United Kingdom (UK) with their permission to make a film for a good cause, would I be allowed to flout the rules and regulations? I don’t believe the film was banned because of new revelations because there were none. I think it was banned due to negligence of rules and assurances given to the authorities by one of the co-producers and co-directors, namely Leslee Udwin.
You can be accused of agreeing to go along with a lot of the wrongs over which you are now in court?
I know and I can defend myself. I could have let the matter pass, but this is not about me anymore. This is about a woman who was brutally raped in my country. This is about how Nirbhaya’s story is being flaunted as a ‘gift’ to India by Leslee Udwin. There are no words to describe this shameful publicity and self-promotion.