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Bina Paul on denial of censor exemption to Muhammad biopic

One of the surprises of the 23rd International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) was the non-screening of Majid Majidi’s film, Muhammad: The Messenger Of God.

The film was initially set to be screened on 10 December, but the screening was cancelled owing to a delay in acquiring a censorship exemption certificate.

The film’s second screening today was also cancelled, leading IFFK’s artistic director Bina Paul to state that the central government was “playing games” with the festival in the state.

“We couldn’t screen the film Muhammad: The Messenger Of God’ by Majid Majidi at the IFFK because the central government did not give us permission to screen it,” she said bluntly.

Bina added that the film festival coordinators were in a legal bind as the Central Board of Film Certification had neither denied nor approved the film’s screening.

The delays led to the festival organizers having to cancel the film despite the filmmaker being the head of the international film jury at the festival.

“The central government on the film’s screening have not said ‘No’ but not ‘Yes’ either,” Bina, who is also vice-chairperson of the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, which organizes the festival, said. “It seems like a game the Centre is playing with the state, because a ‘No’ will trigger a protest from Kerala.”

Emphasizing the theme of ‘inclusion’ at the festival, Bina Paul said, “The primary viewpoint of IFFK is inclusion, not exclusion. All the films screened in the festival put forward the same perspective. Especially films like Roma (2018) and [the documentary] Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word (2018) are of great importance, not only because of their cinematic value but also because of what they are talking about. These films talk about the greatest threats we are facing.”

Speaking at the Open Forum, titled ‘Art as resistance: Lessons from IFFK’, festival director Kamal, who also chairs the academy, said, “IFFK in the past has ignited protests, paving ideal platforms for discussions and debates in socio-cultural issues like women in public space and cinema, and playing the national anthem compulsorily in theatres. The festival this year has been an initiative to rebuild Kerala after the calamities that hit the state, to resist the challenges and grow together.”

The director expressed his gratitude to the delegates for participating in and helping to make the festival a success. 

Mahesh Panju, KP Kumaran, VK Joseph, Sibi Malayil, CS Venkiteswaran, GP Ramachandran and Madhu Janardhanan also participated in the session held at the Tagore auditorium. 

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