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Nothing S*** about S*** Durga

Author: Sudhir Chaudhary
Publication: Dnaindia.com
Date: December 1, 2017
URL:   http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-nothing-s-about-s-durga-2563884

Controversy doggedly follows the film S Durga wherever it goes. I am writing today to tell you that it is not accidental. In fact, given the antics of the director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, it seems that the name of the film, as well as the content of the movie, has been disingenuously crafted to court controversy.

From the beginning to the very end, the movie is fraught with political as well as religious manipulations.

I can state so much about the movie with such authority because I was invited by the festival directorate to judge the film for screening at the International Film Festival of India. Along with three celebrated directors Satish Kaushik, Vivek Agnihotri and Rahul Rawail (who was also the chairman of the jury), I voted that the film should not be screened at the festival. Seven other members of the jury voted in favour of the screening.

Currently, a one-sided narrative is dominating the discourse over the film. A small clique of intellectuals would like us to believe that the screening of this movie is irrevocably interlinked with the freedom of expression and creative liberty. They argue that preventing the movie from being screened is an attack on our democracy and that scuttling the screening of the movie is only a prelude to suppressing the voice of the people.

I am writing today to dispel these mistaken beliefs.

I am writing today to remind them that freedom of expression is not their preserve alone. It also lies with the viewer. Filmmakers can exercise their right to creative expression as long as the exercise of it does not encroach upon our beliefs or offend our sentiments. The filmmaker’s freedom of expression is not absolute and is not entirely vested in him. It partly rests with the viewer as well, and the viewer has the inalienable right to reject all and any works that are forcibly foisted on him in the name of edgy cinema.

Our freedom to reject these so-called creative works is a countervailing force against their freedom of expression, and we will not be reluctant in exercising it.

Before we proceed, let me delve briefly into the plot of the film. The movie has been shot in the backdrop of Kerala and there are two parallel themes running throughout the movie. The movie makers have juxtaposed a procession of Durga — and largely the worship of Durga in India — with the female lead of the movie who is, incidentally, also named Durga. Now, Durga is shown as eloping with her boyfriend; desperately looking to reach the railway station in the dead of the night. While both of them are stranded on a deserted road, two men arrive in a van and cajole them into taking a ride with them to the railway station. The boyfriend, surprisingly, is keen on taking a ride with them while the girl is naturally reluctant. The movie, essentially, is the journey that these two undertake in the van and the sexual harassment that the girl faces in the course of the night.

When the jury was shown the movie at the festival, the director quite cunningly changed the title of the movie from Sexy Durga to S### Durga. Clearly, this was an attempt by Sasidharan to be too clever by half. Even if it doesn’t say so, the meaning of the three dots is not lost on anybody. Even after taking out the “E-X-Y”, the title still carries the same connotation.

As someone who has seen the movie first-hand, I cannot emphasise enough that there is no correlation between the film and the title. The director has deliberately and maliciously misused, even milked the title of the movie to present a pretentious facade in the name of creative cinema. It would have been acceptable had the director chosen to title the movie as Durga but there is no explanation, whatsoever, to mischievously changing the name of the film to S###  Durga.

At this point, there is something that needs to be said about the mind of the director. The director knew from day one that the movie is going to be controversial. He knew very well, perhaps, even while writing the screenplay that he is inviting controversy. And despite knowing that, he pushed full steam ahead for want of fame. All throughout the movie, there are subtle hints that the director himself is a small-time, novice politician hoping to make it big. He is honing his political instinct in the name of creativity.

In the film, the boyfriend is named Kabir. This is not as innocent as it might seem on the face of it. Mind you, the religion of the characters is not relevant to the plot. But the director deliberately chose the name, Kabir — predominantly a Muslim name — to give a Hindu-Muslim spin to the story. In the name of creative cinema, the director thinks it is wise to retain the boyfriend as Muslim and the girl as a Hindu. What’s more, the name of the girl has to be that of a Hindu goddess. Had the name of the characters not been Kabir and Durga but Aslam and Ayesha or Ramesh and Sonam, then, the film, per se, wouldn’t have been controversial.

I would like to ask the director: Why is that the girl had to be named Durga and not Fatima or Mary? Why not make a movie on the same plot with a Hindu boy and a Muslim or a Christian girl? Why not call it “Sexy Fatima” or “Sexy “Mary”? Why is that the girl had to be called Durga?

The director may argue here that he has created a parallel with the Durga procession, but there wasn’t anything stopping him from finding a parallel in an Islamic or Christian festival or monument? India is a secular country but that does not give the director a license to single out the Hindu religion.

The film suffers from another serious moral dereliction. The portrayal of trauma in the film is flawed because it has segregated trauma into religious silos. Irrespective of whether a girl is named Durga or Fatima or Deborah, the trauma of a girl facing sexual harassment will be the trauma of a girl fearing for her life and her safety. Unpardonably, the director has given a religious angle to this ordeal. Another faux pax of the film is that it errs in sexualising a victim of rape or sexual harassment. How can a victim of such a crime be referred to as sexy? The director is effectively belittling the victims of sexual crime.

Unfortunately, the film and Sasidharan have come to occupy a disproportionate share in contemporary news coverage. The director is mining the row to the hilt and is playing up the issue as if it is one of national importance.

Lastly, there is a grave and monumental danger afoot if this film is given all clearances, and eventually screened. What is there to stop anyone from making a film titled “Sexy Lakshmi” or “Sexy Saraswati”? What defence will the people have against such a film given that film directors will keep raising the bogey of freedom of expression? This could possibly start an ominous trend where directors — from both the communities — will start crafting their movies to serve a sectarian agenda.

- The author is the Editor-In-Chief, Zee Media
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