India: Film based on Salman Rushdie book not to be screened

Indian-born filmmaker Deepa Metha’s latest film, ‘Midnight’s Children’, may never be available to Indian audiences because of the Indian government’s aversion to the film.

No outright ban of the film is currently in place. Instead, distributors allegedly fear soft reprisals and are avoiding the title.

The film had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012, and it will be screened in 40 countries around the world. But not in the nation whose ‘voice’ it represents, because no Indian distributor has shown interest in buying the rights. Some insist it’s a business decision to stay away from a niche movie that most Indians won’t see – at a time when numerous small-budget movies, including documentaries, have found takers. Others in the trade have been more honest:

“The Rushdie issue is one of the reasons why people are scared of it. Risking business is one thing, but if the threat is bigger, then people think twice,” producer and distributor Sunil Bohra told the Hindustan Times.

Self-censorship mantra
“This is censorship of a different kind: preemptive and self-imposed. No one has officially objected to the content of Midnight’s Children. There’s been nary a peep from the government, politician or organisation,” wrote Lakshmi Chaudhry of Firstpost:

“In India, we have all the visible trappings of free expression: strident and relentless criticism of the establishment, the neverending stings and scoops, the celluloid ubiquity of the venal politician. But all this shor-sharaba disguises an entrenched pusillanimity that chills the expression of dissent. In the new Indian democracy, we are ruled by the self-censorship mantra: Why make trouble when it’s bad for business. Amen, say our film distributors.”

Insecure politicians
The story is based on Salman Rushdie’s second novel, ‘Midnight’s Children’, which won the Booker Prize in 1981. It mirrors India’s history told through the emotional coming-of-age of a young man.

“What a pity if insecure politicians deprive the people of India to make up their own minds about what the film means, or does not mean, to them,” Deepa Metha was quoted as saying in the Hindustan Times.

This is not the first time that Metha has run afoul of authorities at home. Hindu right-wingers prevented her from filming ‘Water’ in the country and she shifted production to neighboring Sri Lanka where she also filmed ‘Midnight’s Children’. And Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ remains banned in India.

 

UPDATE on screening in India
According to Wikipedia, the film finally premiered at the International Film Festival of Kerala on 10 December 2012. However, after the show, the Indian National Congress leaders stopped further screening of the film in the festival, alleging that the film portrays former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and other leaders in a negative manner.

 

 

Sources

Hindustan Times – 8 September 2012:
Orphaned at Midnight
By Anirudh Bhattacharyya

BBC News India – 10 September 2012:
Deepa Mehta: India ‘may not see Midnight’s Children’

Firstpost – 11 September 2012:
I gag myself: Self-censoring Midnight’s Children
By Lakshmi Chaudhry

Movieline – 12 September 2012:
Deepa Metha’s Toronto Pic Midnight’s Children Effectively Banned In India
By Brian Brooks

Wikipedia – 18 January 2013
Midnight’s Children (film)

Google News – continuously updated:
Search: “Deepa Metha” + “Midnight’s Children”

 

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