Independent filmmakers like me are always humiliated: Leena Manimekalai
The CBFC have refused to certify her film, Maadathy, and suggested a number of cuts that would disrupt the narrative, and even accused Leena of religious contempt
This is a time when even big-budgeted star vehicles keep running into release problems. Imagine the plight of independent filmmakers making movies on sensitive subjects. One such filmmaker is Leena Manimekalai who is running from pillar to post for the certification of her film, Maadathy-An Unfairy Tale. "My film deals with the subject of sexual harassment in the name of caste. The main character is an adolescent girl born in a slave caste, The Puthirai Vannars, who wash clothes of Dalits, menstruating women and the deceased. Even their sight is considered pollution in our casteist society. My protagonist wants to lead a normal life and refuses to be defined by the caste she is born into. It is taken as a contemporary fairy tale and not as a social commentary."
The CBFC refused to certify the film, and suggested a number of cuts that would disrupt the narrative, and even accused Leena of religious contempt. "CBFC is not anymore a censor board but a certification board. They are neither supposed to interfere editorially nor impose cuts. As political appointees, they want to serve their masters and not to citizens like me who make art, pay taxes and want to exhibit my art," says Leena.
From removing texts that mention folk gods, to being questioned on how she could feature an infatuated minor girl, Leena was subject to a lot of policing by the Censor Board. "I was demanded to clean the language used in the film. Even my previous film Sengadal was cleared only after a long struggle and the intervention of Tribunal. The language in Maadathy is the language spoken by the very people whose story I am trying to tell. In our everyday lives, we don't censor language that has rape culture ingrained in it, right? Then why sanitize it in films? There is no rule or bylaws that gives them the authority to impose cuts in a film when asked for “A” certification. Why would they make us go to courts all the time, spend our money, energy, and resources to get their senseless orders quashed and get reminded that their job is to certify and not censor?" asks Leena.
Considering the presence of various OTT platforms, one might think why censor board at all for independent films? However, Leena says that not just theatres, but even OTT platforms demand Censor certification to release Indian films. "Without CC our films are not even eligible to compete in various International film festivals and even the National Awards. Independent filmmakers — who question the status-quo by our art and refuse to be censored — are always violated and humiliated," says Leena.