Freedom of expression seems to have been shackled by religious intolerance, and small-mindedness. SoFarah Coppola comments.

A Punjabi family. A big fat Indian wedding. A hapless pair being forced into an institution for lifetime. Amidst the chaos, a woman trying to prevent history from repeating itself.

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16th century India. Two little girls separated by caste grow up together – one receiving the other’s belongings through charity, until the former decides to change the game. She shall regret this later, when she will lose love and passion to scheming perversion. Two young women who have grown up to pleasure a king – one as his wife, the other as his courtesan.

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Two women in a conservative Indian household. One’s husband is devoted to spirituality; the other to another woman. In a world that obviously conspires against their bodily desires, they choose to fulfil each other’s desires within the four walls of their claustrophobia. Is sexuality something you’re born with, or does society make you gulp it down like bitter medicine?

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Year: 1938. Place: Varanasi. A group of women destined to live a life of suffering and misery, as directed by a faceless man from an unknown age. Chuiya, already a widow at 8, has not been able to come to terms with the reality of her condition yet. Kalyani, a blossoming young woman is trying to break societal shackles and Shakuntala is perplexed between anger towards her fate and devotion towards her duty. Narayan enters the scene, bearing the promise to emancipate one of them. He ends up emancipating life, but saving another one.

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18-year old Jess (Jasminder) belonging to a Punjabi Sikh family residing in West London, needs to lead double lives to continue playing football. Chadha tells the story of bending the rules instead ofbreaking them to achieve what you want. Like Beckham, you sometimes need to twist and turn and bend your way to the goal.

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Among all the rights that our country, the ‘largest democracy in the world’ offers us with open hands, freedom of expression probably comes last, almost spilling over the pages of our great Constitution. For those film-makers who dare to tell their own stories instead of the ones that are trimmed and tailored according to the demands of a boorish box-office, this freedom is non-existent at its best. Here comes the cross-country film-makers who have been able to tell the kind of stories that they have because they are based out of the country.

deepamehtaIndo-Canadian film-maker Deepa Mehta, while shooting the final instalment of her Elements trilogy, ‘Water’, received life-threatening calls. Even after personally securing location permits from the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, her sets in Varanasi were destroyed. Prominent parties of the state were involved in the same. In fact, a party called KSRSS (Kashi Sanskrit Raksha Sangharsh Samiti) was conceived just for the purpose. Her crew, which constituted of people hailing from different nations – Hungary, Germany, Canada, England, France, South Africa and Australia – sat outside a government office in silent protest, fighting for their right to freedom of expression for the first time in a country that they didn’t even belong to. The film that was originally supposed to feature Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Akshay Kumar was later shot clandestinely in Sri Lanka with a different cast under a false name.

Same was the case with the first film of the trilogy, ‘Fire’. People with weapons in their hand and power in their head stopped its screening, starting from the industrial capital Mumbai, to the rest of the country. This happened despite a green signal from both the Government of India and the Censor Board.

Deepa Mehta’s 1947, Earth, the second of the Elements, was India’s official entry to the Oscars. Deepa Mehta’s Water would be Canada’s official entry to the Oscars. So much for adherence to culture and conformation to traditional Indian values. One of the best examples of what blind religious orthodoxy can do to art.

091210_mira_nairNew York based Mira Nair became the first female recipient of the Golden Globe at Venice for her 2001 comedy-drama ‘Monsoon Wedding’. Her production house, Mirabai Films has churned out master-pieces like Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, The Namesake and Little Zizou. Her 1998 film Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love was banned in India in one of the most hypocritical moves taken by the Censor Board so far. While the rest of the world sees India as the land that gave the world the art of making love, Indians are too ashamed to give to the world a film based on it.

gurinder20chadhaGurinder Chadha, with ‘Bhaji on the Beach’, became the first British-Asian woman to direct a full feature-length film. It was also the first western film to be screened publicly in North Korea, albeit with heavy editing that brought the 112-minute film down to an hour. She can be called the Jhumpa Lahiri of Cinema regarding her selection of subjects – the depiction of the Indian diaspora residing in the UK conflicted between loyalty to the land of origin and allegiance to the land of inhabitance.But did you find her in your local Box Office? Perhaps not.

Under the misconception of being guardians of their ‘million-year old culture’, people, with the name of an organization backing them up, consider it their duty to prevent shaming of the image of their land. What our country needs is not radical patriotism on the face of a Friday release, rather the intellect to accept our past and see beyond the mirage of culture for once. Slavery is a dangerous thing, especially when it dons the garb of ideology.

When you say that there is no good cinema in India, think again. What could be a possible reason?

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