Saturday, December 3, 2011

Banned film finds light at IFFI

Anabelle Colaco, Times of India, 30.11.11

Panaji: For two years, Leena Manimekalai battled the lack of electricity, roads and sanitation, a dearth of funds, an absconding producer, getting arrested or worse, killed, under the constant watchful eye of the Sri Lankan Navy to film ‘Sengadal the Dead Sea’ in Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram. Two years hence, her fight to highlight the plight of the fishermen form the area and their fight for survival, did not end. The film was denied a screening certificate by the censor board and was banned in India. The reasons give were: Denigrating statements about the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in the film, bi-lateral relations and un parliamentary language by the fishermen. An appeal to the Appellate tribunal quashed the CBFC ban and ordered for a new examination committee. Eight months and a nine-hour-long discussion with a newly appointed CBFC committee later, the film finally got cleared with an adult screening certificate in July.“If I’d agreed to change the script, I’d have got the film cleared the first time around.  I’m a filmmaker and the state has no business to control what I or anyone else has to say. I couldn’t stand watching the fishermen fight for their lives every day and not do something about it,” says Manimekalai, who asserts that she makes films that affect people and is not into mainstream cinema.  

Describing how every dialogue in the film is either a memory of a real life incident or comments by social workers, clippings of newspaper articles and the such like, the Chennai-based filmmaker, poet and actor says, “It was difficult to put it all together and recreate it to make it look real.” Of course, after having fought the lack of electricity, cellphone signals, toilet facilities and public transport (Kambippadu is situated at quite some distance from Rameshwaram which can be traversed only by jeeps and special trucks across the shifting sandy ways along the sea shore), the putting together of the film was comparatively less difficult, she adds.Perhaps her biggest task was getting the necessary permissions to shoot the film. “In fact, 60% of the scenes have been shot illegally. We ventured into the border waters between Sri Lanka and India to film scenes despite not being allowed to, and were hidden by the fishermen under their nets in between the decks of their boats every time the Navy patrolled the area. These fishermen, who venture out to sea not knowing whether they will come back, will give their lives to save you” says Manimekalai adding, “The fishermen, who are brutally killed or beaten up by the Sri Lankan Navy, were involved in almost all activities of the unit like cooking, transport, crowd control and even helping in holding cutters and recording equipments.”  

Describing it as a community film, Manimekalai says that the fishermen of Kambippadu and the Tamil refugees from the Rameshwaram Mandapam refugee camp form the bulk of the artistes in Sengadal. “None of them had ever faced a camera before. The scenes were rehearsed many times with them with script-reading and workshops,” she adds.Dhanushkodi is also under constant surveillance by the coast guard, Indian Navy, CB CID, Q Branch and Intelligence Bureau as the Sri Lankan shore is a mere 18 km from the place. “Why can’t the Indian government intervene instead of watching them die?” Manimekalai asks.

‘Sengadal the Dead Sea’ has been screened at the Official Competition section of Durban and Montreal International Film Festivals, was the only Indian film at the International competition of Mumbai International Film Festival and won the NAWFF award at the Tokyo film festival. “It’s great that the film is being shown at Iffi. The plight of the fishermen is being known even among international audiences. If my film can save even one fisherman, I will be successful. But my dream will be completely realized only when I organize a theatrical release of the film in Tamil Nadu,” says Manimekalai, whose film will be screened for Iffi at 8.30pm , 30.11.11 at INOX Screen 2

 Director of ‘Sengadal the Dead Sea’ Leena Manimekalai, who is in the state to promote her film at Iffi 2011 lashed out at the festival organizers for “postponing” the screening of M F Hussain’s film ‘Through the eyes of a painter’.

M F Hussain

“Shame on the Iffi organizers. How can they fall prey to pressure by right wing organizations? If they’re organizing a film festival they need to be able to protect the rights of filmmakers and their films or not organize the festival at all,” Manimekalai said. The fact that the film will now be screened on Wednesday did not pacify her. “It shouldn’t have been cancelled in the first place,” she added.