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Kamal Swaroop on His Documentary and CBFC’s Problem With It

Filmmaker Kamal Swaroop’s interview on why he thinks the CBFC is denying his documentary a censor certificate

Updated
Entertainment
4 min read
Kamal Swaroop on His Documentary and CBFC’s Problem With It

Just when you think the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has stopped meddling with films comes the news of National Award winning filmmaker Kamal Swaroop’s documentary Battle for Benares, being denied certification by the board. The documentary inspired by Nobel Laureate and German philosopher Ileas Canetti’s book Crowds and Power “captures the nature of crowd behavior and various leadership during the high octane 2014 Lok Sabha election battle in Benaras.”

Kamal who has already spent 35 lakh on making this documentary says, “We shot for 44 days and my producer Manu Ravi has spent so much money we can’t just give up because the CBFC has developed cold feet. We will go to the tribunal.”

Read the interview below:

Q: Battle for Benares is set during last year’s election campaign, which was covered live, by all national and many international channels. What objection could the CBFC possibly have? Did they demand any cuts before denying you the certificate?
Kamal Swaroop: The CBFC didn’t ask me to cut anything. They have not objected to anything in particular – because there are no abuses, no commentary, we are not saying who is right or wrong. We have only documented the elections in the holy city.

They just said, ‘The whole film is objectionable. It doesn’t come under our guidelines, it doesn’t follow any guidelines’. I don’t know what they mean by guidelines. I think they are exercising self-censorship. They say that if they pass it and later if someone objects to something and they will be caught in between. CBFC members are afraid to rile feathers if my documentary is passed. They don’t want to take that risk.

A still from Battle for Benares

Q: How is your coverage different from what one has seen on TV channels? Why would they object to it?
KS:
The coverage is the same as the TVs were showing. The film does not have my commentary or point of view. Graphically, we are looking at crowds and leadership. I have a feeling, they would have felt we were showing Modi in bad light.

The body language and their rhetoric are such that when you see the politicians on the big screen, they might look caricaturized and fake. My documentary covers all political parties not Modi alone. I was covering 40 candidates. There was also a eunuch among them – Kamala Kinnar. While she has given a strange colouring to the entire documentary, she also criticized everyone. She said, “A man who cannot look after his wife, how will he look after the nation?” And for Kejriwal she talked about filing an FIR against him for creating chaos during elections.

On television, the Indian audience has seen the same facts in a fragmented manner. On film, the experience is totally different because the crowd is clearly visible and we have compressed the 40 day coverage into a 2 hour story. There is a definite clarity in the vision of democracy and politics of India, about linguistics and polarization of Hindus and Muslims.

A still from Battle for Benares

Q: You assisted and crowd managed for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Did that experience also add to the interest in studying crowds and leadership in your documentary?
KS: Yes since then I have always had an interest in crowds and its nature. Gandhi and this book made me want to explore the behavior of various kinds of crowds and leaderships, class and caste formations. I thought it would be a nice opportunity for me to study, apply my understanding from the book to the elections.

Filmmaker Kamal Swarrop

Q: How did you sift through the material? What went into deciding the film narrative?
KS:
The idea was to cover all parties. We weren’t allowed in the main electoral campaign building of BJP. Only people they knew and trusted had access there. Samajwadi wasn’t also open. AAP and Mayawati’s party were open to media.

The narrative is chronological to the events that unfolded during the campaign and then we condensed our coverage into two hours.

A still from Battle for Benares

Q: The film doesn’t need a CBFC certificate for film festivals. Will it be doing rounds of film festivals?
KS:
The film has gone to the Montreal festival. We will also show it in MAMI. For a release in India, we are still hopeful.

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Topics:  CBFC   Documentary   Censorship 

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