Malayalam film, ‘Sexy Durga’ won the prestigious Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) but the name has apparently hurt the esteem of a Hindu organisation leading to open social media threats and intimidating messages asking to change the title of the film.
Are we really dwelling in a dungeon of religious and communal radicalism even when the calendar reflects the 21st century? Unfortunately, my apprehensive countrymen are yet to figure out the characteristic vitality of a straight spinal cord. We are still struggling to balance the overtones of religion and its implications on the society leading to suppression of artistic freedom and creating a rather thorny space for new ideas to take shape.
Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, a 37-year-old filmmaker based out of Kerala witnessed both the sides of societal idiosyncrasy over the last few months. The day he announced the name of his third project, there were subversive opinions hitting his inboxes, and most of them had very little understanding of the content or the subject of the film.
— IFFR (@IFFR) February 3, 2017
‘Sexy Durga’ is the first Indian film to win the prestigious Hivos Tiger Award at the IFFR. Noir by nature, the film is an on-the-road social commentary depicting the life of a woman travelling in a city after sunset. Inspired by the Nirbhaya incident (the much talked-about Delhi rape case in December 2012) along with the realistic criticism of patriarchy, the uncanny thriller revolves around a couple that elopes in the middle of the night and then hitchhikes on a truck with four unknown men.
The controversy of the title having the word Durga (a Hindu goddess) has spurred much interest in a right-wing organisation called the Hindu Swabhiman Sangh. The director is allegedly receiving open threats on Facebook and Whatsapp messages from the president of the organisation, Rahul Srivastava. Allegedly offensive to religious sentiments, the entire turmoil is concerning the word ‘sexy’ being attached to Durga and a person has even asked Sasidharan to change the title to ‘Sexy Sreeja’, after his wife.
There are 330 million gods and goddesses in Hindu scripture, and in India, every fifth individual is named after one of them, even if not directly, their alternate names. For the matter of fact, even ‘Sreeja’ is a Hindu goddess. Sasidharan has argued the same, telling the offenders that the name of his film has nothing to do with Goddess Durga. However, given the vulnerable condition of women in the country, there would be thousands of Durgas on the streets, in the trains, buses, red-light areas, courtrooms and inside their bedrooms, fighting for justice and respect. In such a situation, how can a filmmaker compromise the socio-political relevance of his film’s title?
The name, on the contrary, does the much-needed justice in highlighting the social hypocrisy prevalent in India, where Durga, the goddess, is worshiped and her mortal namesake is subjected to atrocities like molestation or rape. While Goddess Kali is revered so widely, a girl in India with a not-so-fair complexion succumbs to various forms of social rejection every day.
Assail on artists
If my reader has followed India’s newsrooms over the last couple of years, he or she will definitely second my concern over the growing intolerance against artists, especially filmmakers. The case with ‘Sexy Durga’ is obviously not an isolated one. Even mainstream films such as ‘Udta Punjab’ faced issues with the name while Sanjay Leela Bhansali was physically assaulted in Rajasthan while he was shooting his upcoming historical drama, ‘Padmavati’. Most recently, ‘Jolly LLB’, a satirical courtroom drama had to compromise on scenes that allegedly defamed the profession of lawyers in India. Getting ludicrous every passing hour, the outlook of independence-practicing art is alarmingly getting endangered in India.
I am dying to see the faces of the people on the timeline, when they actually see the film “Sexy Durga” and they realise it’s about them..
— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) February 4, 2017
Anurag Kashyap, the much-acclaimed director, and screenwriter has been voicing his opposition to a number of similar cases over the years, including this Malayalam film in the discussion. Consequently, Kashyap and Sasidharan have jointly become the desperados in the context. Cold-blooded, open threats have been circulating on Facebook for quite some time now. Sasidharan has been quite objective in his remarks as he told The Week, “Mob mentality is rampant in our society. For instance, a person in a group might crack a lewd joke about women and everybody will laugh and enjoy it. Another person in the group might know that the joke is in bad taste, but, he will laugh along rather than taking a stand that is different from those around him. We are used to going with the flow.” India is perhaps the only country where a certification body is often addressed as a ‘censor board’. Tiring tides have washed the shores of this country as filmmakers and artists have demonstrated in various forms, appealing a sensitive team with filmmakers chairing the certification body. New legislations were promised and pledges were taken to treat films on the merit of meticulous viewing. However, there is not much hope in terms of situations like these, where fundamental religious bodies will come up with objections that are beyond the scope of logical interpretations.
In a country with such intolerance towards satires, comedies, paintings, poetries and, most vividly, cinema, it is perhaps the good, silent and the hypocrite Indians who should be blamed. Being complacent about social abuses and staying ignorant to such religious radicalism go hand in hand, but the otherwise peaceful reader, who would describe himself as politically aware, ends up being imprudently inert. There is no point in being meek and gentle with the butchers of art and allow our souls to suffer. Intolerance and radicalism are not visual hara-kiri and bloodshed alone; the seeds are sown in amicable differences of views turning into imposition and muscle-flexing. Wake up, countrymen. Don’t go so gentle into the good night that there is no dawn to wake up to.
You might as well like to read the Rotterdam Film Review of Sexy Durga, go ahead!