Odisha: Right-wing groups force truncation of Ravenshaw University Film Festival

A group of students from alleged right-wing groups threatened protests against the screening of the movies Had-Anhad and Gay India Matrimony, claiming that they depicted anti-Hindu content
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

A three-day film festival being organised at Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, Odisha was embroiled in controversy after objections from alleged right-wing groups forced day one of the event to be scrapped. The festival, which was being planned as a retrospective of celebrated Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, was supposed to be conducted on March 2, 3 and 4. However, the main auditorium of the varsity, which was the venue for the event, was locked at 10.00 am on March 2, merely an hour before the opening ceremony of the festival. 

"At 10.00 am, security guards locked up the venue and told us that they were acting on the orders of the VC. We did not get any written word from the administration regarding this," claimed Subha Sudarshan Nayak, President, of Film Society Ravenshaw, which is organising the event under the Cultural Council of the university.

The chain of events that led to that moment paints a murky picture. On the night of March 1, on the eve of the event, the organisers claim that they were paid a visit by Nitesh Sahu, a first-year PG student of Mass Communication and Journalism at the varsity, and a member of a right-wing group called Hari Om. "He came along with one other student and told us that two of the films that we were screening, Had-Anhad by Shabnam Virmani, and Gay India Matrimony by Debolina Majumdar, did not have licences from the censor board, and therefore must not be screened," alleged Nayak. The organisers then informed Sahu that the films did indeed have the required licenses, and Gay India Matrimony was produced by the Films Division of India of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. "We asked them if they had watched the films. They responded that they had not watched them, but had 'reviewed' them based on Google reviews and concluded that the films depicted 'objectionable anti-Hindu' propaganda," Nayak said, adding that they were threatened to be "careful" about screening the two films. 

Students of the Film Society then discussed the matter with the Cultural Council. "There was a group of students who claimed that these two movies are 'obscene and objectionable.' They also objected to Ray's Pather Panchali. We came to the realisation that they are completely unaware of these films. It was objection was for the sake of objection. However, knowing that some students were objecting to the movies, before the day of the screening, we had decided not to screen Gay India Matrimony and Had-Anhad," informed Dr Urmishree Bedamatta, a member of the Cultural Council and Faculty Coordinator, Film Society Ravenshaw. On the other hand, Nayak claims that the Film Society was not willing to cancel the screening of these two movies. 

The poster shared by alleged right wing groups in Ravenshaw University forums raising objections against the films being screened at the Film Festival

The auditorium was locked on the morning of March 2 without any intimation to the students and the Cultural Council, Dr Bedamatta stated. "The administration did not categorically state that the event was cancelled. They were stalling it in a bid to listen to the opinions of the students who were protesting against the screenings and the organisers. That caused a delay in the start of the event. The Cultural Council has stated that the objections against the movies are not justified and that we will not engage with the opinions of the students opposing the screenings any further," she added. 

A five-member delegation of the film society then visited the office of Vice-Chancellor Professor Sanjay K Nayak on March 2 and demanded to know why the venue was locked. 
When they did not receive any response from the Vice-Chancellor, they staged a protest in front of his office from 12.00 pm to 7.00 pm. The students were then informed by the Cultural Council that the film festival can go on if the screening of Had-Anhad and Gay India Matrimony are dropped. "We were reluctant since there was still no official written word from the administration on why the movies needed to be dropped. However, guests and speakers were present already, and the students had invested time and effort in organising the event. So we decided to go ahead as directed," informed Abhishek Parija, an alumnus of Ravenshaw University and member of the Film Society. 

However, the film festival, which is currently ongoing, is being "monitored" by members of the right-wing groups, including Hari Om and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, claim Nayak and Parija. "About 40 of these students are present in the auditorium amidst the audience, and they have openly told us that they are 'monitoring' the event to ensure that no 'objectionable' movies are being screened," Parija stated. 

The students are miffed with the action of the university on the issue, and are questioning why a small group of students had such sway over the conduct of a Film Festival. "Why have they succumbed to opposition from these students? Was the administration threatened? Why are our voices not being heard? These students have not even watched the movies they are targeting. And we still do not have any written word from the administration on why their screening was scrapped," said Nayak. 

Dr Bedamatta, on the other hand, said that the reason why the university was on-guard after objections were raised, and protests were threatened against the screening of the movies was in response to the recent incident at Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, where teachers and activists were attacked by a group of ABVP students during a talk by JNU professor Surajit Mazumdar at a seminar organised by the Citizen Forum on Indian Constitution and Education. "The administration wanted to prevent an escalation of the problem. The VC wanted to take some time to understand how valid the objections were. There was no nefarious malice, I believe. They just wanted to prevent an untoward incident. The only problem was that they locked the venue without any prior information," Dr Bedamatta said.

Related Stories

No stories found.