Just days after a Delhi University professor was booked for calling goddess Durga "sexy prostitute" in a Facebook post, an independent filmmaker from Thiruvananthapuram is fighting to get the censor board to approve his internationally awarded movie titled "Sexy Durga".
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's Malayalam movie is the first Indian film in 23 years to win laurels since the Tiger Awards were introduced at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
It has been refused censor exemption to be screened at the upcoming Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2017 next month as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry concluded it "may affect the law and order as it hurts the religious sentiments", said the filmmaker.
He said the film had no religious connection.
"If at all there's one, it's truly philosophical, analysing the reasons behind the atrocities against women in India," Sasidharan explained.
He is upset and angry to the extent of calling India "a land that's becoming like Iran". But he is not losing hope, and has applied for a certificate from the censor board. The screening for the board was held on Tuesday.
"I am waiting for the censor board's opinion. I am going to fight for it, because it's a question of freedom of expression, the freedom of making art... I won't sit quietly. I will go to the court and make an appeal and do whatever I can do to fight this," Sasidharan told IANS over phone.
"It is a very difficult situation that we are compelled to do certain films under the norms and under the radar of the majoritarian scrutiny... This country is becoming a country like Iran, and we are boasting that we have democracy and freedom of speech, and we protect a lot of different kind of opinions, he said.
"But what we do is cut freedom. It is time to stand up against these things," added the Kerala state award-winning director.
On the official IFFR website, "Sexy Durga" -- starring Rajshri Deshpande and Kannan Nayar -- is described as a film about how "obsessiveness and worship can quickly degenerate in a patriarchal society into a mentality of oppression and abuse of power".
"Durga is the protagonist of the film. I knew that these people will come out and say, 'Oh, Durga is our goddess'. But if that's the case, go and worship all women named Durga on the streets. That's not happening.
"What I mean is, Durga is a common name in India. It's not only the goddess. There are many humans (named Durga) you can see, and they may not even be treated like human beings; when they need help, people don't care. But when a name (film title) comes like this, then suddenly people make a hue and cry and they say, 'Our religious sentiments are being hurt'," the filmmaker said.
"It's ridiculous and hypocritical. I wanted to bring this hypocrisy forward," hge added.
To help push his case, some people have got together to put forward a petition -- 'Allow Sanal Kumar Sasidharan's film Sexy Durga at MAMI Film Festival' -- to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, via change.org.
Sasidharan rued: "Only the independent filmmakers are daring to do something different as they don't care about the financial success... But in the mainstream cinema, they all care about financial success, so they don't care about making films on those subjects that are not likable to the masses.
"Indie filmmakers are daring to make films which talk about the truth, and they (government) are trying to kill that movement. It is a very difficult time."
This is the second time that officials at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival had applied for a censor exemption for "Sexy Durga". Earlier, they wanted to screen it for their year-round programme. But the application was rejected by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Smriti Kiran, the festival director, told IANS: "We require censor exemption or certification to play films in theatres. Sanal has applied for censor certification now. We hope he gets it so that we can screen it at the festival."
"Sexy Durga" was also selected for the International Film Festival of Kerala, but Sasidharan says he rejected the proposal as the organisers had slotted it for a section he didn't want it to be a part of.