By Utpal Borpujari
On a gloomy day at the 39th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa thanks to the terror strikes in Mumbai, there was a small victory for the tenets of Freedom of Expression on Thursday as noted painter M F Hussain’s documentary on Rajasthan was finally screened by the Films Division.
The government had ‘deferred’ its scheduled screening two days ago following protests by fringe Hinduvta groups Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) against anything that had to do with Hussain.
But the overwhelming sense of outrage among filmmakers and delegates present at IFFI, with strong reactions coming from stalwarts like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Jahnu Barua and Sudhir Mishra, seemed to have turned around the situation as the 18-minute Through the Eyes of a Painter was screened in the presence of a sizeable number of viewers.
Earlier, Directorate of Film Festivals director S M Khan had told reporters that the film would be screened following consultations with Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat.
“We have no objection with the film nor do we have a problem with Husain, specially since the courts have exonerated him and there is no legal ban on his paintings and films,” he said.
What had incensed filmmakers and delegates was that the screening had been postponed bowing to the pressure from the Hinduvta groups even though it has been screened many times over all over India since it was made in 1967 and holds a valid Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) certificate.
Khan said Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Anand Sharma too had urged DFF to screen the film. IFFI upholds freedom of artistic expression and the decision to defer the screening was only taken to avoid any law and order problem, he told reporters.
Meanwhile, every screening at IFFI on Thursday was preceded by the observance of one minute’s silence as a mark of respect for those who have lost their lives in the Mumbai terror strikes.
The impact of the attacks was felt in Goa too with filmmakers like Priyadarshan failing to make it to the screening of his film Kanchivaram, which is in the Competition Section, and many filmmakers scheduled to return home via Mumbai getting into a state of confusion on their journeys.
Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat held a high-level meeting to review the security scenario in the state during the day, with special emphasis on the security structure around IFFI and the high tourist concentration areas, especially as the tourist season is picking up now.