Hansal Mehta sniffs a political conspiracy, Information and Broadcasting official poohpoohs the charge.
Was Hansal Mehta’s highly-acclaimed Shahid taken off as the opening film at the recently-concluded National Film Festival because of the change of guard at the Centre?
When Mehta’s film won the National Award for Best Film, the Congress government was in power. Shahid is about the real-life slain Muslim lawyer Shahid Azmi who fought cases on behalf of TADA detainees.
Says Hansal Mehta, “I don’t want to sound persecuted. Nor do I wish to make an issue of the fact that Shahid was yanked out of being screened as the inaugural film for the National Film Festival.
“I’ve heard it said that my film was given the National Award because it spoke in favour of a particular community. But my film spoke about inequality and not about any community.”
Hansal said he was informed on May 15 that Shahid would be the opening film at the festival.
“I confirmed my presence saying that I would be honoured. Soon afterwards, the decision seems to have been reversed and I learnt about this only through the internet.
“I am constrained to believe that there are reasons beyond cinema for this sudden change and having a protagonist named Shahid is perhaps one of the causes.
“I was opposed to the hypocritical appeasement politics practised by the previous government and Shahid clearly demonstrates my stand on the matter.
“I am also vehemently opposed to the chauvinistic 'majorityism' that looms large over the change promised by the new setup.
“My only appeal is that keep your political compulsions out of cinema.
“I will continue to express myself through films and such discriminatory practices only strengthen my resolve.
“I hope I am wrong in judging the decision in this manner but somehow my logical mind does not allow me to believe otherwise.
“I also wish to put on record that I am not passing any judgement on Astu, which was chosen over my film. I am only expressing my sadness that films made with passion should become pawns in an unseemly, petty game."
If his film had to be replaced by another, it should have been Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus, which also won the National Award, Mehta says.
An official associated with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, who doesn’t want to be named, denied that the film was pulled out for political reasons.
“Mr Mehta is just imagining things,” he said. “We chose to schedule Astu instead of Shahid as the inaugural film because the cast and crew of Astu, including Dr Mohan Agashe (co-producer and the lead actor) were present.
“Since we thought Astu to be a worthy film, we went with it.
“It’s ridiculous to read conspiracy theories in something as routine as one film being replaced by another at the National Film Festival,” the official insisted.
Hansal Mehta is not convinced.
“I was told Shahid was removed as the inaugural film because it would not get a sizable audience.
“I want to know who decides what the audience wants to see. I was given the impractical slot of 4.45 pm on Monday and we had a full house. So, am I imagining a conspiracy? Or would it be correct to think that if the former government practised the politics of appeasement the current government believes in the politics of chauvinism?” he asks pertinently