Filmmaker Shazia Iqbal, whose short film Bebaak was to have its world premiere at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival this year has been dropped from the programme because one of the producers is Anurag Kashyap.
“I understand there are ‘collateral damages’ in a battle but my film is as feminist as this battle we are fighting; and if you’re shutting down a film that starts a conversation against misogyny and patriarchy, then what side of the battle are you on?” she wrote in her open letter for Medium questioning the decision.
MAMI has responded with a short statement, saying that they stand by their decision because they are in solidarity with #MeToo.
It is a tough time for the film industry and our hearts go out to the filmmakers whom we may have disappointed by our decision to not screen their films at this edition. However, at MAMI we are in solidarity with #MeToo, and we stand by our decision because there is a larger movement that has begun. We request understanding from the filmmakers and the many people involved with making these films.
MAMI Festival director Anupama Chopra and creative director Smriti Kiran spoke to The Hindu, explaining their stance. Chopra said that no one took this call lightly. “As an Academy, at that point when we made this decision (10 days ago or two weeks ago when it had all just begun) we did not have the luxury of a nuanced response,” she said.
“We haven’t taken out films by association alone. We haven’t taken out films where there has been an accusation but it has been vehemently denied. For example Nagraj Manjule. There was a complaint filed but he had vehemently denied that. It’s an ongoing thing right now. The films that were taken out were the films where the principal producers or directors were people who had apologised and stepped down from the concerns that they were heading and said that they could have done more in the positions they were in. You have Rajat Kapoor, the director of Kadakh, who apologised on Twitter. There is Chintu Ka Birthday where Tanmay Bhatt stepped down. Then there were three other films—Shazia [Iqbal’s]Bebaak where Ajay Rai and Anurag Kashyap are both main producers. Vikramaditya Motwane is the principal producer for Awake. Terribly Tiny Tales and Colosseum are principal producers of Binnu Ka Sapna. Chintan [Ruparel of Terribly Tiny Tales] had stepped down. In Los Silencios Anurag is the associate producer. In The Gold Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain he is a co-producer. In Mehsampur he has got the credit of special thanks. As far as Lars Von Trier’s film is concerned Bjork had come out in a big way but he had vehemently denied that and the film had actually played at Cannes,” said Smriti Kiran.
In response, Shazia took to Twitter saying, “When your person called and conveyed to my second producer if I wanted to shut down the festival, I said no. I clearly told him all I wanted was a meeting with Anupama Chopra because no one at MAMI team was interacting with me. It had been 7 days of silence.”
After Vikas Bahl was accused of sexual harassment, Phantom Films dissolved and both Anurag Kashyap & Vikramaditya Motwane were dropped as board members of MAMI for being “complicit” in the sexual harassment case. However, as of this article their names are still listed on the festival’s website.
Shazia attempted to get a written statement from the MAMI board stating their reasons for dropping her film. After a few failed attempts, she received a personal message from MAMI apologising but no official explanation for the decision.
In the open letter, Shazia clarified that Anurag was an independent producer for her short film, and neither Phantom Films, nor Vikas Bahl were involved in the project in any capacity.
The female filmmaker has also named a journalist for a “biased article” painting Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane in a bad light.
She spoke about Anurag’s statement on Twitter and it being an open legal case till date. “It clearly states all that he (Anurag) did, and yet it wasn’t enough to get the woman to complete justice,” she wrote.
Shazia also implied that until proven otherwise, Anurag denies being complicit in the sexual harassment case against Vikas.
Shazia points out that Bebaak, directed by a female and starring a female lead, hit several roadblocks along the way on those accounts.
“Female lead and female director is a risk. Aap lead ko change kar ke male kar do’, said one of the Studio heads (they make family entertainers). ‘Love the idea. Why don’t you give the script to us? We‘ll develop it with another director’. So either the director or the lead had to be male. But that wasn’t the case for a short,” she wrote in her open letter.
I have a female lead, and more than fifty percent of my main cast and crew are women. We have all become the “collateral damage” of a movement that is meant to empower women. I don’t fully understand law but I understand enough about equality and just treatment. You’re questioning the integrity of two men who are currently defending a woman in court/fighting an accused sexual predator and you’re taking action against them (and my team) based on an article.
‘You asked me to drop Anurag’s name (because he insisted that ‘Films are bigger than individuals), I agreed. A feminist film getting a platform in the midst of the country’s biggest Me Too wave is a great deal; I revised my DCP, Trailer and Poster and had his name removed (Poster attached),’ Shazia went on to substantiate her argument.
Shazia cited several examples of how Hollywood dealt with ongoing projects when the #MeToo storm hit the entertainment industry.
Shazia also pointed out some of the lesser known “direct associations” of MAMI, that haven’t been removed from the programme’s line-up. The festival's programme this year, she wrote, still includes films by other directors who have been accused in the #MeToo movement internationally like Lars Von Trier, First Reformed by Paul Schrader who has defended Harvey Weinstein, as well as Beatriz Seigner’s film Los Silencios which has credited Anurag Kashyap as one of its producers.
She also referred to Nagraj Manjule’s film, An Essay of The Rain being part of the program after the director has been accused by his wife of assaulting her physically, emotionally, and verbally in The Quint's article.
“As a survivor of child abuse, several sexual assaults and harassment at workplace, I find it really odd, discomforting, unfair and traumatizing to be at the receiving end of the most powerful feminist moment of our times. This isn’t justice. This is irrational, illogical, unjustifiable penance. How is this not harassment? Sorry MAMI board members, you missed standing by the #MeToo movement by a mile,” she signed off.